terror escape in singapore

Posted on February 28, 2008

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What an embarrassing breach of security it has been for Singapore to report that a top Islamist terror suspect held in one of the highly-policed state’s jails, had broken out.

Mas Selamat Kastari, who was incarcerated in the island’s Whitley Road Detention Center, reportedly gave his captors the slip while going to the bathroom on his way to receiving a visit from his family.

Mas Selamat was accused of planning to hijack a commercial jet and crashing it into Singapore’s airport facilities and plotting to bomb American buildings on the island nation. He was also believed to have been the chief of the Singapore arm of the Southeast Asian Islamist terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been blamed for being behind several high-profile suicide bombings in Bali and Jakarta, and has links to Al-Qaeda.

Singapore’s deputy prime minister and security chief Wong Kan Seng was forced to make the unprecedented step of apologizing for the breach and called to answer questions by the country’s parliamentarians on how such an incident could have happened.

“This should never have happened,” Wong told parliament. “I am sorry that it had. An independent investigation is under way and we should not speculate on what and how it happened.”

While blaming a security oversight on the incident, he was also questioned on why there was a long time lag of over four hours before the authorities made public the news of Mas Selamat’s escape.

No doubt some heads will roll for this matter.

This incident will undeniably dent Singapore’s hard-earned reputation of being rigorous on security and anti-terrorism measures.

More embarrassingly, Mas Selamat had also escaped when he was under Indonesian custody. His success again, this time at having outwitted the highly-touted Singaporean security systems, would prove more damaging to Singapore’s reputation than the Indonesian episodes.

The Singaporean authorities, though, are trying to put a brave face on the issue, saying that it has launched a massive manhunt and there was no “imminent danger” to the public as the fugitive was unarmed. It is also in cooperation with neighboring authorities Malaysia and Indonesia to ensure that the ring around Mas Selamat would tighten and get him caught quickly.

They are probably hoping fervently that they get their man and this remains an isolated incident, so that Singapore’s highly-prized reputation of having the region’s most effective and sophisticated security systems will not be tarnished.

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Posted in: singapore, terrorism