An Apology Means Little Until the Escaped Terrorist is Caught
Coincidentally still on the focus on apologies and making amends, the latest news of a JI prisoner escaping in Singapore shocked me. How can the ISD be so inept and allow such a thing to happen? The Home Affairs Minister remarked perhaps meekly in parliament
“This should never have happened…. I am sorry that it had. An independent investigation is under way and we should not speculate on what and how it happened.”
It was not that he overpowered the guards in a freak getaway. Instead, he escaped from the toilet in a Murphy’s Law but still inexcusable scenario. Since he was a JI leader who fled to Indonesia and hid there for some time, Mas Selamat is no stranger to being evasive and the authorities will be pitted against a desperate wily prey who is fleeing for his life. I don’t think the police can catch him that easily like they did with Dave Teo and the whole affair would last a few days at least before he is caught.
There is little news on the manner of the escape e.g. were there accomplices since it was timed during his family visit? At least the authorities are showing visible vigilance in a better late than never manhunt. However, that is assuring but not enough. The government was open about the arrest of JI members in the past, and ISD should be open about its horrifying lapses when the time comes soon. But the first thing they can do is to capture slippery Mas Selamat who squeezed through a police dragnet before during the first round of JI arrests in 2001. Hopefully, witnesses can provide genuine clues on sightings of the JI leader and not make hoaxes such that resouces in hunting Mas Selamat down are wasted. Until Mas Selamat is re-captured, Wong Kan Seng’s apology means little.
The Associated Press
Thursday, February 28, 2008
SINGAPORE: The Singapore government apologized Thursday for a rare security lapse after an alleged Islamic terror leader escaped from jail, triggering a massive manhunt across the island nation for a man who walks with a limp.
Mas Selamat Kastari, who had allegedly plotted to hijack a plane and crash it into Singapore’s Changi airport, slipped away from a detention center on Wednesday, authorities said. Mas Selamat is said to be commander of the al-Qaida linked Jemaah Islamiyah’s Singapore arm.
Minister of Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng said Mas Selamat escaped after being taken from his cell to go to a room to wait for his family who were scheduled for a visit.
Mas Selamat was granted permission to visit the washroom and then escaped, Wong said in Parliament.
“This should never have happened,” said Wong who is also the deputy prime minister. “I am sorry that it had. An independent investigation is under way and we should not speculate on what and how it happened.”
Security breaches are virtually unheard of in Singapore, a small and densely populated island whose sophisticated intelligence system has been liberally used to ensure order and peace.
The security system has taken pride in pre-empting alleged plots to bomb the U.S. Embassy, the American Club and government buildings in 2001, in which Mas Selamat allegedly had a hand.
The Home Affairs Ministry said in a statement that Mas Selamat was at large after fleeing the Whitely Road Detention Center in a wooded residential area in central Singapore. He walks with a limp, it said.
“Extensive police resources have been deployed to track him down,” it said, adding that he was not known to be armed.
A security blockade was thrown around the detention center. The facility ? guarded by elite Nepalese Gurkha officers ? is enclosed by high fences topped with barbed wire, with closed-circuit television camera surveillance around the perimeter.
Hundreds of police officers and military personnel fanned out, setting up roadblocks to check passing cars. Dozens of riot police trucks were parked along main roads.
It takes less than an hour to drive from one end of Singapore to the other. However, it is only a short boat ride from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Indonesian security officials said they would work with Singapore to prepare for the likelihood that Mas Selamat might attempt to come over.
Mas Selamat “would think Indonesia is the safest place” where it would likely be easier to hide, said Nasir Abbas, a former Jemaah Islamiyah operative who now works closely with Indonesian police.
Malaysia’s police chief Musa Hassan said his forces were on the lookout as well but have made no special arrangements to tighten border security other than inform border authorities.
“We have not received any special request from Singapore as yet,” Musa said. “We have not sighted him yet.”
Singapore, a close ally of the United States, was named an al-Qaida target in a transcript from alleged al-Qaida operative Khalid Sheikh Mohamed’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal, held last year at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The ministry said Mas Selamat’s plane hijack plot was in retaliation for the country’s arrest and detention of some of his fellow Jemaah Islamiyah members in a crackdown on the militant group’s operatives here.
The alleged schemes were never carried out.
Mas Selamat left Singapore in December 2001 following the arrests of nearly 40 other suspected Jemaah Islamiyah members.
The ministry’s Web site said Indonesian authorities detained him in February 2003 on charges related to possession of falsified identification documents. They deported him to Singapore in February 2006, the ministry said.
Mas Selamat has since been held in custody under Singapore’s Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.
Since 2002, Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for a series of terror attacks that have killed more than 250 people, most of them in Indonesia. Scores of its suspected operatives have been arrested across Southeast Asia since 2000.