Fri, Jul 18, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Philippine president warns police of revamp

AIDING ESCAPE?The police are widely regarded as being accomplices in the absconding of three terror suspects who have alleged links to al-Qaeda


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo warned yesterday she would carry out a top-to-bottom revamp of the police force if corruption, likely behind the escape of three terror suspects, is not stamped out.

"I acknowledge the serious problem of corruption in the police organization and I am making no excuses for it," Arroyo said in a statement, saying it was "highly probable" the problem was linked to the escape from a high-security jail in the Philippine National Police's main camp.

Fathur Roman Al-Ghozi, a suspected bomb expert of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group who is accused of involvement in deadly bombings in Manila, slipped out with two suspected Filipino extremists early Monday in an embarrassing blow to Arroyo's high-profile, US-backed war on terrorism.

Two more prominent detainees have escaped from the same camp over the past year.

"I hold the PNP chief and the entire leadership of the PNP accountable for resolving the problem of police corruption once and for all because it is already eating into the security of our nation," Arroyo said.

"I call on the entire PNP leadership to shape up or ship out, and I will not hesitate to undertake a top-to-bottom revamp if no results are forthcoming," she warned, adding those culpable for Al-Ghozi's escape will be dealt with "no matter who gets hurt."

A regional hunt for the escaped Indonesian terror suspect continued with Philippine authorities checking a radio caller's claim that the fugitive has slipped back to Jakarta with the help of a top Filipino police general.

Manila alerted neighboring countries, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, to be on the lookout for Al-Ghozi. Filipino investigators filed a criminal complaint Wednesday against four guards over the escapes.

Yesterday, a man who identified himself as Solaiman called the Radio Mindanao Network in the Philippines and claimed his group, Ali Rahman, was holding Al-Ghozi in Jakarta.

The caller claimed Al-Ghozi was turned over to his group by Virtus Gil -- the name of the Philippine National Police's deputy chief -- and suggested his group was ready to hand back Al-Ghozi to Manila in exchange for US$10 million.

The man placed a similar call to the radio station's affiliate in New Jersey and the head of that US radio station said he was ready to turn over the taped recording of the call to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said the man's claim was "extremely wild," but that he would nevertheless check the report with Indonesian officials. Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said security officials were assessing the claim.

Gil angrily denied the caller's allegation as "character assassination."

Police in Jakarta ridiculed the claim.

"The claim is untrue, confusing and ridiculous," said National's police spokesman Colonel Zainuri Lubis.

"I can say it would have been impossible for [Al-Ghozi] to come to Jakarta via legal entry gates such as airport and seaport," he said.

Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jose Lina called the escapes an "inside job" while national police chief Hermogenes Ebdane said he believed money changed hands.

Arroyo ordered an independent investigation, calling for results in 30 days and saying anyone who aided the escapees should "suffer severely for aiding these enemies of humanity."

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