Officers on an ambulance, taking cover from raining projectiles during the Little India riot on Dec 8, were told by members of the unruly mob to run moments before the vehicle was torched.
“I shouted to the rioters, my medics have come here to help you,” said Staff Sergeant Yaacob Kamis on Day 19 of the Committee of Inquiry into the riot on Tuesday. “One of them shouted to me: ‘You all run, you all run’.”
This exchange came after an overturned police vehicle directly in front of the ambulance was razed. The eight officers on board, comprising two traffic policemen, two Certis Cisco auxiliary officers (APO) and four SCDF officers, spent about 10 seconds weighing their options before evacuating after the rear door of the ambulance was opened by rioters, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) ambulance medical orderly of 29 years.
Among those on board was Traffic Police Station Inspector (SI) Muhammad Adil Lawi, who has told the committee that the decision to run, in a video that has come under much scrutiny online, was not an act of cowardice but because “the threat was very real”. Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar had also praised SI Adil for being a “brave officer” who took charge under duress.
Staff Sergeant Yaacob was by the time injured with cuts on his right cheek and a swollen left finger. A projectile had shattered his driver’s window earlier as he was attempting to reverse from the scene.
As he was seeking shelter at the back of the ambulance, a foreign worker climbed into the driver’s seat and toyed with the engine switch. An APO on the ambulance has told the committee previously that he had heard the foreign worker say in Tamil: “I want you all to die today.”
The officers ran towards Bukit Timah Road after exiting the ambulance. Staff Sergeant Yaacob said: “I saw one of the rioters take off his t-shirt, set it alight, then burn the ambulance. It happened in front of me. I was very sad.”
When quizzed by the committee if the outcome would have been different had they chosen to stand their ground, the SCDF officer said: “I think it would be better to run than fight, for our own sake.”
Committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam concluded: “I’d do the same if I were you.”