A militant leader suspected of a Sept. 11-style plot to crash a hijacked plane has been arrested in Malaysia, more than a year after his dramatic escape from a high-security jail in Singapore, officials said yesterday.
Mas Selamat Kastari was arrested with the cooperation of Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian intelligence agencies, Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein told reporters.
“Mas Selamat is under our detention and being investigated right now. He was planning something,” Hishamuddin said.
He refused to give details and would not say if Mas Selamat would be handed over to Singapore, where he had been jailed.
The suspected commander of the Singapore arm of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Mas Selamat escaped from jail on Feb. 27 last year by wriggling out a bathroom window in a surprising security breach that sparked a massive manhunt.
The search largely focused on Singapore and neighboring Indonesia, where the local branch of Jemaah Islamiyah was thought likely to find him shelter. The group is accused of carrying out the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that left 202 people dead.
But Mas Selamat was arrested in Malaysia’s southern Johor state bordering Singapore, said Walter Chia, a spokesman for the Singapore’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
“The arrest was made possible with the cooperation of the two countries,” Chia said.
Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper said on its Web site that he was captured on April 1 in a joint operation involving the security agencies of both countries, citing unidentified regional intelligence officials.
Mas Selamat, who is known to walk with a limp, is accused of plotting to hijack a plane and crash it into Singapore’s international airport. He was being held under the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.
Security breaches are virtually unheard of in tightly policed Singapore.
The Singapore government said Mas Selamat, who is in his late 40s, escaped from the high-security Whitley Road Detention Center because of a “security lapse.”
He had been taken from his cell to a room where he was waiting for his family to make a scheduled visit. He escaped after being granted permission to visit the washroom, authorities said.
The father of four, Mas Selamat first came to prominence in December 2001 when he fled Singapore following an Internal Security Department operation against Jemaah Islamiyah.
He was arrested by the Indonesian police on Bintan island in January 2006 and handed over to Singapore authorities.
Sidney Jones, an expert on Southeast Asian terror groups, said while the suspected militant worked with members of Jemaah Islamiyah network in Indonesia, there was no evidence he was directly linked to the Bali bombings.
His arrest in Malaysia, she added, indicated the militant group’s reach.
“The fact that he’s been in Malaysia this whole time ... says something about the strength of the JI network there,” she said.