MacDonald House bomb explosion

Singapore Infopedia

by Kartini Saparudin, Mohamed Effendy Abdul Hamid


A bomb exploded in the MacDonald House building situated along Orchard Road on 10 March 1965 at 3.07 pm. The explosion claimed the lives of three people and injured at least 33 others.1 The bombing had been carried out as part of Indonesian’s Confrontation (also known as Konfrontasi) with Malaysia (which at the time included Singapore).2 Two Indonesian marine commandos, Osman bin Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun bin Said, were later caught, found responsible for the bombing and hanged on 17 October 1968 by the Singapore authorities.3 Their executions led to a souring of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Indonesia as the two men were regarded as war heroes by their countrymen.4 Singapore’s then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sought to bring closure to the issue during his official trip to Jakarta in May 1973 when he sprinkled flowers on the graves of the two men.5

The bomb blast
Indonesian marine commandos Osman bin Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun bin Said arrived in Singapore on 10 March 1965 at about 11.00 am. Disguised as civilians, they proceeded to the MacDonald House building and each planted a bundle of explosives on the steps of the mezzanine floor near the lift area. After lighting up the fuse, they left the building at around 3.00 pm and boarded a bus. An eyewitness testified that he saw a Malayan Airways canvas travelling bag on the mezzanine floor that was producing a hissing noise with smoke coming out of it.6

The bomb exploded at 3.07 pm, ripping off a lift door while the inner walls of the mezzanine floor took the full force of the blast. Windows within a hundred yards were shattered and the explosion damaged almost every car parked outside the building. The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank housed within the building had closed for business only seven minutes earlier and 150 employees were closing their accounts when the explosion occurred. Witnesses recounted a sudden flash followed by a bang. The explosion was powerful enough to destroy the pillars of the building and exposed the steel reinforcements within them. Later examination of the building showed that 20 to 25 lb (9 to 11 kg) of nitroglycerine explosives were used for the bomb.7

Casualties, damages and aftermath
Two bank employees were killed immediately by the explosion: 36-year-old private secretary Elizabeth (Suzie) Choo and 23-year-old assistant secretary Juliet Goh. A third victim, 45-year-old Mohammed Yasin bin Kesit, a driver for the Malaya Borneo Building society, died a few days later after being in a coma following the explosion. Around 33 other people were injured in the blast with some warded at the General Hospital while others were given outpatient treatment.8

Besides the surrounding mezzanine floor area, the explosion also caused damage to the offices of the Australian High Commission located within the building. The blast also created widespread damage to the car showrooms located in the surrounding area owned by car dealers Cycle and Carriage and Wearne Brothers.9

At 3.30 pm, the reserve unit arrived and traffic police diverted traffic along Penang Road and Tank Road. Soon after, the British Army's bomb disposal squad arrived at the scene. Staff from the health department also arrived to clear the shattered glass pieces from the road. At 6.15 pm, then Minister for Health Yong Nyuk Lin visited the warded casualties at the hospital. Later that evening, then Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye condemned the attack as a "senseless act of cruelty".10

Indonesian Confrontation and effects on Singapore
The Confrontation period (1963–1966) saw Indonesia using military force to engage in acts of sabotage and terrorism against the states that comprised the Federation of Malaysia, namely Malaya, Singapore and the former British territories in North Borneo (now Sabah) and Sarawak. The MacDonald House bombing was an example of this policy of intimidation, which was championed by then Indonesian President Sukarno because he opposed the formation of Malaysia, which he saw as a cover for the continuation of colonial influence and power in the region.11

Singapore was especially exposed to Indonesia’s subversive activities due to its proximity to the Indonesian Riau Islands. Tanjong Sekupang, one of the Riau Islands, was in fact used by the Indonesians to conduct training of volunteers for sabotage activities. In a statement to the Singapore Legislative Assembly on 18 December 1963, Singapore’s then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew asserted that Indonesian plans for subversive activities had already started early in the 1960s before the formal announcement of the Federation of Malaysia.12

The Indonesians used several business enterprises as fronts for conducting subversive activities, which included intelligence gathering and sabotage, in Singapore. These dummy commercial organisations were identified as GEMI (Gerakan Ekonomi Melayu Indonesia) in Johor Bahru, Duma Corporation at Bussorah Street and Malaysia Indonesia Corporation at Beach Road. The head of the Indonesian sabotage operations was Masintan Sihombeng, a former Indonesian consulate official in Singapore.13 He was arrested on 10 December 1963 as he was about to flee from Singapore to Pulau Samboe.14

Arrest and execution of the two saboteurs
Three days after the explosion, the two Indonesian marine commandos responsible for the MacDonald House bombing were caught while trying to escape from Singapore by sea. They were rescued at sea by a bumboat man who saw them clinging to a plank. At that time, they were not wearing military uniforms and had no identification papers. They were later taken on board a marine police boat and subsequently interrogated by the police before being charged with murder for their role in the MacDonald House bombing.15

On 20 October 1965, Harun bin Said and Osman bin Haji Mohamed Ali were convicted by the High Court of Singapore for the murder of three civilians resulting from the MacDonald House bombing and sentenced to death.16 Their appeals to the Federal Court of Malaysia were dismissed on 5 October 1966.17 Both men were hanged on 17 October 1968.18

Reactions in Indonesia
In Jakarta, the execution of the two Indonesian marine commandos caused a lot of public anger. A band of 400 students sacked the Singapore embassy in Indonesia and the residences of Singapore diplomats. They were upset as they felt that the two men were only carrying out the orders of the government of former President Sukarno. The students were reported to have used bamboo staves and smashed furniture and windows. They also ripped down Singapore national flags and national emblems. The attackers took less than an hour and they later went to the security headquarters building in Jakarta where the bodies of the two men were lying in state.19 Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians subsequently lined the streets for the funeral process of the two men, who were buried with full honours at the National Heroes cemetery.20

Seeking closure
The execution of the two Indonesian marine commandos was an obstacle for Singapore in establishing good bilateral relations with Indonesia. During a visit to Jakarta in May 1973, then Prime Minister Lee visited the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery and scattered flowers on the graves of the two men as a gesture of good will. This gesture was praised by the Indonesian press and eventually led to better bilateral relations between the two countries.21

Controversy over naming of ship
In February 2014, the Singapore Government expressed its deep concern over Indonesia’s announcement that a navy frigate would be named in honour of Osman and Harun for their role in the MacDonald House bombing.22 Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa later stressed that Indonesia had meant “no ill intent or malice” when it decided to name the frigate after the two marines.23 Indonesia, however, went ahead with its naming of the frigate after the two bombers.24 Singapore Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen responded by announcing in parliament that the frigate would not be allowed to call at its ports and naval bases nor sail alongside or take part in training exercises with ships from the Singapore Armed Forces.25

Indonesia’s General Moeldoko subsequently apologised for the naming decision. Ng welcomed the move and said that the Singapore Armed Forces would reciprocate by resuming bilateral ties with the Indonesian
Armed Forces.26

Similar case
There were another two Indonesians on death row in Singapore for crimes committed during Konfrontasi. Stanislaus Krofan and Andres Andea were charged with unlawfully carrying 43 pounds of explosives at Tanjong Rhu and Katong Park on 14 April 1965. Two demolition experts and two police officers were injured during the defusing of the bombs. Following a court trial, Krofan and Andea were sentenced to death. However, their death sentences were remitted following pleas by the Indonesian government and both were sent back to Indonesia in April 1967. Their case was handled differently from Osman and Harun’s case, as the bomb they planted did not kill anyone unlike the MacDonald House bombing which killed three people.27 

Mohamed Effendy Abdul Hamid & Kartini Saparudin

1. “Terror Bomb Kills 2 Girls at Bank,” Straits Times, 11 March 1965, 1; “Bomb Victim No. 3 Dies of Wounds,” Straits Times, 13 March 1965, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Pamela Sodhy, “Malaysian-American Relations during Indonesia's Confrontation against Malaysia, 1963–66,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 19, no. 1 (March 1988): 112–14(Call no. RSING 959.005 JSA)
3. T. F. Hwang, “Indons Not in Uniform, Says Judge,” Straits Times, 7 October 1965, 5; “S'pore Govt Gives Reasons for 'No' to Pleas for Mercy,” Straits Times, 18 October 1968, 14. (From NewspaperSG); Ridzwan Rahmat, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, 6 February 2014.
4. “Singapore Embassy in Jakarta Sacked,” Straits Times, 18 October 1968, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Lee Khoon Choy, Diplomacy of a Tiny State (Singapore: World Scientific, 1993), 262–71. (Call no. RSING 327.5957 LEE)
6. Visu Sinnadurai, ed., The Privy Council Cases: Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, 1875–1990, vol. 2 (Kuala Lumpur: Professional Law Books, 1990), 518. (Call no. RSING 347.594204 PRI); “Terror Bomb Kills 2 Girls at Bank.”
7. Sinnadurai, The Privy Council Cases, 518; “Terror Bomb Kills 2 Girls at Bank.”
8. “Terror Bomb Kills 2 Girls at Bank”; “Bomb Victim No. 3 Dies of Wounds”; “S'pore Govt Gives Reasons.”
9. “Terror Bomb Kills 2 Girls at Bank.”
10. “Terror Bomb Kills 2 Girls at Bank.”
11. Sodhy, “Malaysian-American Relations,” 112–14
12. Legislative Assembly Singapore, Indonesian Saboteurs and Local Fifth Columnists, vol. 22 of Debates: Official Report, 18 December 1963, cols. 843–46. (Call no. RCLOS 328.5957 SIN); “Indonesia Began to Plot Long before Malaysia Was Mooted,” Straits Times, 19 December 1963, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Legislative Assembly Singapore, Indonesian Saboteurs and Local Fifth Columnists, 843–846; Jackie Sam, (1963, December 20). “Sabotage, Inc. Boss 'No Good at Business'.” Straits Times, 20 December 1963, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Indonesia Began to Plot.”
15. “Bank Bomb Blast: Two Held at Sea,” Straits Times, 14 March 1965, 1; Hwang, “Indons Not in Uniform, Says Judge.” 
16. “Death for Indon Bombers,” Straits Times, 21 October 1965, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “MacDonald House Bombing: Four Fail in Appeal,” Straits Times, 6 October 1966, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “S'pore Govt Gives Reasons.”
19. “Singapore Embassy in Jakarta Sacked.”
20. “Malik Defies Mob,” Straits Times, 19 October 1968, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Lee, Diplomacy of a Tiny State, 262–71.
22. Zakir Hussain, “Singapore Urges Jakarta Not to ‘Re-Open Old Wounds’,” Straits Times, 7 February 2014, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Zakir Hussain and Zubaidah Nazeer, “Indonesia ‘Meant No Ill-Will’ in Naming of Ship,” Straits Times, 12 February 2014, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Why KRI Usman Harun Is Not Welcome,” Straits Times, 20 February 2014, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Jermyn Chow and Zakir Hussain, “Indonesian Warship in Naming Row Barred from Singapore,” Straits Times, 19 February 2014, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Singapore Welcomes Indonesia’s Apology over Naming of Frigate,” Straits Times, 16 April 2014.
27. Bilahari Kausikan, “Sensitivity Is a Two-Way Street,” Straits Times, 13 February 2014, 25; “Two Indons Sentenced to Death,” Straits Times, 30 April 1966, 24. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 7 August 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Hijacking of Singapore Airlines flight SQ 117


Singapore Airlines flight SQ 117 was hijacked on 26 March 1991 shortly after it took off from Kuala Lumpur. The hijackers were four passengers who claimed to be members of the Pakistan People’s Party. The plane landed at Changi Airport at 10.24 pm. Commandos of the Singapore...

Yellow Ribbon Project


The Yellow Ribbon Project is a national initiative aimed at encouraging the community, through various programmes and activities, to accept ex-offenders released from prisons and drug rehabilitation centres as well as support their reintegration into society. It was launched in 2004 by the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders...

Chinese Swimming Club


The history of the Chinese Swimming Club on Amber Road began in 1905 as an informal gathering of a small group of swimming enthusiasts. The club is known for having produced a number of national swimmers. ...

Nalla Tan


Nallammah Ruth Tan, née Navarednam, popularly known as Nalla Tan (b. 12 May 1923, Ipoh, Malaya–d. 27 March 2012, Singapore), was a doctor, academic and author. She was best known for her advocacy of a diverse range of issues, especially sex and health education, gender equality in employment, women’s rights...

Subhas Chandra Bose


Subhas Chandra Bose (b. 23 January 1897, Cuttack, Orissa, India–d. 18 August 1945, off Taipei), was a noted Indian politician in the fight for India’s independence from British rule. He was jailed 11 times in his fight for freedom and was believed to have been killed under suspicious circumstances in...

Indonesia–Malaysia Confrontation


The Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, or Konfrontasi, lasted from 1963 to 1966. The conflict was an intermittent war waged by Indonesia to oppose the formation and existence of the Federation of Malaysia. It was marked by a breakdown in political, economic and social relations that eventually led to armed incursions, bomb attacks,...

Library Book Sale


The National Library Board’s first centralised Library Book Sale was held at the Suntec City Entertainment Centre in 1998 in conjunction with the Great Singapore Sale. Since then, the book sale has been taking place almost every year either at the Singapore Expo in Changi or the Suntec Singapore Convention...

Subhas Anandan


Subhas Anandan (b. 1947, Kerala, India–d. 7 January 2015, Singapore) was a prominent criminal defence lawyer in Singapore. He took on numerous high-profile cases, including that of “One-Eyed Dragon” Tan Chor Jin, and the kidney trading case involving retail tycoon Tang Wee Sung. Besides being a senior partner at RHTLaw...

National Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign


The National Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign is an annual event jointly organised by the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB). Held annually in June to commemorate World Drug Day, it incorporates a series of youth-oriented activities to spread the anti-drug abuse message among students and non-schooling...

Crash of Singapore Airlines Flight SQ006


Singapore Airlines (SIA) Flight SQ006, which was on its way to Los Angeles from Singapore via Taiwan, crashed on a closed runway at Chiang Kai-shek Airport (now called Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport) during take-off on 31 October 2000 at 11.18 pm local time. The incident, which destroyed the aircraft and...