maintaining the mas selamat manhunt

Posted on March 1, 2008


“How does a terrorist escape from such a detention facility? How is it even possible?”

That sentiment is echoed not only by a large number of Singaporeans fascinated and anxious about the breakout from the high-security Singapore detention facilities of terrorist suspect Mas Selamat Kestari on Wednesday, these were also the questions discussed by analysts.

Mas Selamat is one of the suspected leaders of Jemaah Islamiya, the Southeast Asian terrorism arm of Al Qaeda, and had been accused of planning to fly a jet into the Singapore airport and also to bomb US facilities in Singapore, such as the US embassy.

While the Singapore authorities had launched a massive manhunt involving its police, military and Nepalese Gurkas to track down and recapture him, other reports have surfaced that the Singaporeans are looking in vain for him on the island — since he has already hightailed it to Indonesia, home to thousands of tiny islands where it would be much easier for a fugitive to hide.

Mas Selamat is believed to have a good knowledge of how to sneak into Indonesia from the years he spent on the run in the country, as a terrorist operative.

Given that almost four days have gone by since his escape, that prospect is not implausible. It would explain why the Singapore government has tied up with the international police network, Interpol, to issue a worldwide alert on Mas Selamat. It might not be admitting it to its worried citizens, but the Singapore government probably already knows that the chances of recapturing Mas Selamat are getting slimmer with each passing unsuccessful day.

But the fallout for Singapore will still remain high.

As a place that prides itself on sophisticated security systems and well-trained personnel in a corruption-free environment, many are wondering if Mas Selamat had acted alone in his daring breakout. Otherwise, how else could a person who walks with a limp have gotten past the high fences, barbed wires and other presumed alerts of the detention center without raising any suspicions or even notice?

Given his high-profile status as a terror suspect, why were there not restraints, such as electronic tags or even old-fashioned handcuffs on him?

Was there not at least one guard watching over him as he was in the bathroom, the point at which he made his run?

Questions on the level of security imposed on him, the effectiveness of systems in place and the complacency of the security forces, will need good answers from the authorities.

But more damagingly, the image of Singapore as a place where top-notch security and air-tight measures to ensure breakouts remain unheard of is now seriously affected. It gives rise to the question of whether other inmates would be attempting to take a gamble to run, given the relative ease with which a detainee as highly-marked as Mas Selamat got away.

And more disturbingly — would his escape increase the likelihood of terrorist attempts against the island nation, seeing how this incident has reflected on the weaknesses of its systems and personnel?

As for those thinking that Mas Selamat is a crazed Islamist idealist motivated by his desire to get out and complete a mission, think again.

Apparently, he’s looking out for himself now and the jail break was driven by the desire to save his own skin rather than getting out and fulfilling the suicide missions against Singaporean and American infidels, the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times reported.

Mas Selamat was said to have spilled the beans on his fellow jihardists in a bid to get a lighter sentence while in Indonesia. He was believed to have given away details of the location of another wanted Islamist in his organization, Hambali, the head honcho of the Jemaah Islamiyah, currently under US custody at Guantanamo Bay.

With a reputation for being both ambitious and ruthless, Mas Selamat is likely to work hard to ensure that incarceration would be his last.

While the Singapore authorities are already trying to put a positive spin on the incident by saying that its security forces and reputation would bounce back and grow stronger from it, it might have to live a long time with the knowledge of having dropped the ball badly on this one.

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Posted in: singapore, terrorism