Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Embarrassed Singapore hunts escaped terrorist

AFP , SINGAPORE

Singaporean army officers join the search yesterday for Mas Selamat Kastari, the alleged leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network in Singapore, who escaped from custody on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Singapore, which prides itself on rigorous anti-terrorist measures, yesterday blamed a security lapse for the escape of an alleged leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant network.

Authorities mounted a massive manhunt as analysts said Mas Selamat bin Kastari, accused of planning to hijack a plane and crash it into Changi Airport, would try to flee to Indonesia.

"This should never have happened. I'm sorry that it has," Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng (黃根成) told parliament.

Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said Kastari had escaped once when he was in Indonesia, but his flight from the Singapore facility was unexpected.

"I think that it has surprised the Singapore authorities and everyone because Singapore's security systems are world-class," he said.

The ministry said Kastari walks with a limp and was not known to be armed.

It said he escaped on Wednesday afternoon from the Whitley Road Detention Center, which holds prisoners detained by the Internal Security Department.

Wong said Kastari had been taken from his cell to the family visit room to await his family.

"He asked to go to the toilet, where he escaped," Wong said.

The minister was responding to a member of parliament who said the escape "raised concerns about our police force vigilance and security operating procedures."

Wong said security had been tightened at all air, sea and land checkpoints and no effort would be spared to locate Kastari, who analysts say received military training in Afghanistan.

Soldiers, Special Operations police and paramilitary Nepalese Gurkhas had joined the manhunt.

Clive Williams, a professor with the Australian Defence Force Academy, predicted Kastari would try to reach Indonesia, "because if he stays in Singapore he's going to be arrested fairly quickly I would think."

Kastari, born in 1961, was arrested on the Indonesian island of Bintan near Singapore in 2003 and sentenced by a court there to 18 months in jail.

He was later released but arrested again by Indonesian authorities in January 2006 before being handed over to Singapore.

Kastari had fled Singapore in December 2001 following an Internal Security Department operation against JI, the Home Affairs ministry said previously.

"He was among those who had planned retaliation against Singapore for arresting and detaining his fellow JI members. He had planned to hijack a plane and crash it into Changi Airport," the ministry said.

Singapore authorities arrested 15 people in December 2001 -- 13 of whom were suspected JI members -- who allegedly planned to attack a bus carrying Americans to a subway station.

Businesses, offices and schools operated normally despite the massive security presence.

Wong said security agencies had concluded there was "no imminent danger" to the public after Kastari's escape.

He said an independent investigation was being conducted into the incident.

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