Thu, Jul 17, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Manila goes all-out to track down escaped terrorist

AP AND REUTERS , MANILA

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vowed yesterday to get to the heart of a jailbreak in which a notorious Islamic militant escaped from one of the country's best-guarded prisons.

Embarrassed by Monday's escape of alleged Jemaah Islamiah bomb maker Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, Arroyo has appointed a commission of enquiry and insisted on a report within 30 days.

"If there was collusion, this is the gravest act against our national security done so far by persons within the government," she said in a statement.

"Those found colluding with terrorists to enable the latter to escape detention must suffer severely from their aiding these enemies of humanity."

Al-Ghozi, an Indonesian, slipped out of a special detention centre at the national police headquarters in Manila early on Monday along with two other local Islamic militants.

Manila has offered a five million peso (US$93,000) bounty for the recapture, dead or alive, of al-Ghozi.

Details of how he escaped were also scant, but police said there were no signs of a forced break-out and Arroyo has already sacked the guards responsible for watching his cell.

The head of the police intelligence group has also resigned and lawmakers urged the government to sack national police chief General Hermogenes Ebdane.

Ebdane said he believed money changed hands in the escape of the three rebels.

"The President said [Tuesday] she would like to have this investigated up to the highest level of command responsibility practicable," presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said, adding that the decision on Ebdane's future would come after the enquiry.

Philippine police filed a criminal complaint yesterday against four guards over the escape of three terror suspects from a high-security detention center as the manhunt extended to three countries.

The four police officers were charged before prosecutors in suburban Quezon City with evasion through negligence. National police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Leopoldo Bataoil said they were also charged administratively with serious neglect of duty, punishable by dismissal, and that others could face charges, too.

Philippine, US and Australian officials have called the incident a serious setback in the war on terror.

"The escape of these three is a clearly a setback to the international war on terror," US Embassy spokesman Frank Jenista said in a television interview yesterday.

He refused to discuss US assistance in recapturing the suspects but said the joint center for counterterrorism in Malaysia was a coordinating agency for international cooperation on such cases.

Jenista said Washington has asked for the results of a formal investigation "and if it turns out some people were derelict with their duty, we would hope to see that there would be appropriate application of sanctions depending on what the investigation shows."

There have been widespread calls, especially from senators, for dismissal of ranking officials over the security breach that Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jose Lina called "an inside job."

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