For Singapore To Maintain Mas Selamat Is Still In The Country Only Adds To The Embarrassment: Terrorism Expert Wednesday, Apr 23 2008 

Singapore’s most-wanted still at large two months after escape, AFP, 23 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Two months after an alleged Islamic militant leader escaped from custody, Singapore is the object of ridicule and admits the country’s reputation has been damaged by its failure to capture him.

Despite a massive manhunt, Southeast Asia’s most technologically advanced nation has been unable to track down Mas Selamat bin Kastari since he escaped by climbing out of a toilet window on February 27.

Observers say the incident has embarrassed the country that prides itself on rigorous anti-terrorist measures. Coordinating minister for national security S. Jayakumar has called the escape “a dent in Singapore’s reputation.”

The government accuses Kastari of plotting to hijack a plane in order to crash it into Singapore’s Changi Airport in 2001. He was never charged, but was being held under a law that allows for detention without trial.

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told parliament on Monday that security agencies believe Kastari is still in Singapore, the smallest country in Southeast Asia with a population of 4.6 million.

But terrorism expert Clive Williams thinks otherwise, suspecting Kastari is somewhere in the vast archipelago of Indonesia, whose nearest islands are clearly visible from Singapore.

Williams, from the Australian Defence Force Academy, said that for Singapore to maintain Kastari is still in the country only adds to the embarrassment.

“It’s been a long time now and I would think that they would’ve searched every place that he’d likely be in Singapore,” Williams told AFP.

“It’s not a good reflection on the internal security system, is it?”

He called for an independent review of Singapore’s entire terrorism-related security structure.

The government has drafted in counter-terrorism units, the military and paramilitary Nepalese Gurkhas to search for Singapore’s most wanted man, whose face stares out from wanted posters on public buses, the walls of buildings, petrol stations and the subway system.

“Here we are seeking one man everywhere, and we can’t still find him,” J.B. Jeyaretnam, of the new opposition Reform Party, said with a smile.

Internet commentators responded with mocking humour to a government statement this week that the alleged Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader fled through an unsecured toilet window as guards stood outside the door.

Authorities blame JI for a string of regional attacks including the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali which killed 202 people.

Wong described Kastari as “a key figure in the terrorist network” and warned that if he could link up with other JI leaders they could plan an attack on the city-state.

Singaporeans do not seem so worried, but say his escape has shaken their faith in the country’s security system.

Tan Soo Eng, 32, a research associate, said the security lapse “shows that we are not really as safe as we think we are.”

Tan Hui Ching, an account executive, thinks Kastari has fled Singapore but adds: “Maybe Singapore is not that safe after all.”

The Straits Times reported that opposition member of parliament Low Thia Khiang asked Wong about “speculation that Mas Selamat died” inside the Whitley Road Detention Centre where he was held.

Wong replied that he saw no point in giving credence to such speculation, the newspaper said.

A committee of inquiry found that Kastari, who walks with a limp, escaped through the window of a bathroom where he was taken before a regular visit by his family.

Surveillance cameras that were not working, and a slow reaction from guards, contributed to Kastari’s flight, Wong said.

The report prompted much derision on the Internet, where popular Singapore blogger Mr. Brown posted pictures of toilets perched on a tricycle and motorised carts, saying he had thought Kastari might have escaped on something similar.

“But I was wrong. It was nothing THAT sophisticated,” he wrote.

The home affairs ministry has said Kastari fled Singapore in December 2001 following an Internal Security Department operation against JI. He was arrested in Indonesia in 2006 before being handed back to Singapore.

“Just as we found him the last time… so we will eventually again track him down, arrest him and detain him,” Wong vowed.

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SDP Calls For Wong Kan Seng’s Resignation Tuesday, Apr 22 2008 

Media Release: Mr Wong Kan Seng, resign, Singapore Democrats, 22 Apr 2008

The SDP has hitherto refrained from calling for Mr Wong Kan Seng’s resignation in the wake of the Mas Selamat fiasco even though a strong case could be made for it. We were waiting to see if Mr Wong showed any contrition for the debacle.

But the Minister has ducked, parried and done everything except assume responsibility for what happened. With the release of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) report and his utterances in Parliament, calling for Mr Wong’s resignation is now imperative.

We present the SDP’s case against the Minister and his top officers:

With the partial revelation of the security arrangements at the Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC), it is clear that there was systemic failure within the operational structure of the facility. It was not just missteps on the part of lower-ranking police officers but rather wholesale negligence at the most senior levels.

If the COI report is to be believed, the junior officers should not be the only ones to bear responsibility of Mr Mas Selamat’s alleged escape.

For example, security fixtures such as the installation of window grilles is the responsibility of administrative planners, not Gurhka officers or Special Duty Operatives.

Likewise, the effective and fail-safe operation of the CCTV system is beyond the control of officers charged with the day-to-day guarding of the detainees.

Similarly, the guards cannot be responsible for the “cement ledge” that enabled Mr Selamat to climb out of the toilet or for the positioning of the so-called “weak perimeter fence.”

Such physical structures can only be put in place by planners and administrators of the Centre. Who in the Singapore Police Force is responsible for the installation, design or construction of the WRDC’s features?

The Director of the Internal Security Department and his superior the Commissioner of Police, of course. They, and not just those handling Mr Selamat, must be held accountable. There is no wriggle room here: Commissioner Koh Boon Hui and his ISD chief are culpable of the security meltdown. Their resignation is a must.

What about their political boss, Minister Wong Kan Seng? It may be argued that Mr Wong cannot be in charge of the minutiae of the running of the WRDC. It must be pointed out, however, that the “security lapses”, to use Mr Wong’s words, were not fleeting moments of distraction. The structural weaknesses within the ISD Centre were yawning holes waiting to be exploited.

For instance, how can the Minister-in-charge of prison security not tell his subordinates what must be the ABCs of prison security: Secure all windows and doors so that prisoners cannot run, walk, or crawl out through them to escape.

And didn’t he give a directive that surveillance cameras had to be working 24/7? He wouldn’t allow the CCTV cameras outside his own residence to be left unmonitored or the security personnel not guarding his home for any period of time, would he?

But this is not the end of Mr Wong’s culpability. His personal handling of the saga right from the get-go had incompetence written all over.

It took 49 seconds for Mr Selamat to escape, 11 minutes for the prison staff to realise this, but a whole four hours for Mr Wong to sound the alert to the public.

It took another week before his Ministry told people what the escapee was wearing. Then Mr Selamat was walking with a “distinct limp”, then that the limp was obvious only when he ran. Again this came only days after the escape during which time the prisoner could have already made his way to the North Pole.

One would have thought that within minutes after he was alerted of the escape, Mr Wong would have gathered his top security officials, collate data of the situation giving priority to the description of Mr Selamat and his possible whereabouts, and disseminate them to the public. This could all have been done within the first hour of the breakout.

But instead of acknowledging his own misjudgments and making a genuine effort to get to the bottom of the mess, the Minister cocks a snook at the public by appointing, or at least agreeing to the appointment of, his subordinate Deputy Secretary Dr Choong May Ling and former subordinate and police commissioner Mr Tee Tua Bah to sit on the three-member COI.

Has the Minister no self-respect to at least insist that the COI be not only independent of his influence but also seen to be so?

As a result the COI report, or the little that has been revealed, has been lampooned and ripped to shreds for its contradictory, incomplete and poorly explained findings. It raises more questions than answers.

The last straw for the Singapore Democrats is Mr Wong casting blame on the junior officers while not-so-subtlely exonerating himself. Mr Wong announced that junior officers “all the way up” to the supervisory and management levels of the WRDC will be disciplined and penalised.

He unabashedly avoids mentioning his own role in the episode. This is the hallmark of a man without honour and pride in his work and his responsibilities. When things go wrong leaders – true leaders – step up and take responsibility.

They don’t make fall guys of their subordinates to save their own skins.

In truth Mr Wong’s reputation is in tatters. He has demonstrated beyond doubt that he is unfit to continue with his job.

Mr Wong Kan Seng, the SDP calls on you to stop passing the blame. Enough is enough. It is not the officers, it is not the window, it is not the toilet. It is you. Now do the right and decent thing: Resign.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

COI Report Raises More Questions Than It Gives Answers Tuesday, Apr 22 2008 

A Tour de Farce, Singapore Democrats, 21 Apr 2008

First, the Government appoints former civil servants and even a subordinate of Mr Wong Kan Seng to conduct an inquiry into the escape of suspected terrorist Mr Mas Selamat.

The Committee of Inquiry, or COI, then takes more than a month to conduct its work in secrecy.

It then writes a report that Mr Wong, who is responsible for Mr Mas Selamt’s escape in the first place, “agrees with and accepts.”

The farce continues…

The COI finds that the limping detainee is able to climb through a toilet window in a maximum security facility, climb down a water pipe, run 20 metres, scale another building and jump over a perimeter fence – all in 49 seconds.

For good measure, it just so happens that no one was monitoring the – not one but two – surveillance cameras during the time of the escape.

In addition, no one was watching the detainee change out of his prison garb into his own clothes. In a regular prison, prisoners are made to change under the watchful eyes of the guards. In addition, every time a prisoner leaves the cell for yard, he needs to strip bare for inspection. Yet, all this was not done at the ISD Centre.

That’s not all. A packet of seven toilet rolls were found. (Why would Mr Mas Selamat or his fellow JI detainees, being Malay Muslims, need toilet paper?)

Also, a close examination of the Straits Times photograph shows two urinals with no space for a latrine. Why would there be toilet paper in a cubicle without a latrine? And if there are only urinals, why would Mr Mas Selamat have to remove his trousers instead of just pulling it down like all males do when they urinate?

There doesn’t even seem that there is a tap in the cubicle. How did the detainee turn on a non-existent tap and leave it running?

The toilet paper, the COI tells us, could have been used by the prisoner to break his fall as he jumped out of the window. The SDP is surprised that the COI didn’t also report finding a ladder in the cubicle.

Let’s put things together:

1. The guard neglects to watch the prisoner as he changes out of his prison clothes.

2. Toilet rolls were left in the toilet which has no latrine and the prisoners don’t use them.

3. The guard sees the detainee “flipping” his trousers over the top of the door and doesn’t find it strange, and hears tap water running when there doesn’t seem to be a tap in the cubicle.

4. The prisoner knows exactly where to run to, scale a fence, climb a walkway and jump to freedom in less than one minute when he doesn’t have a clue as to the surroundings.

5. Two cameras are either not working or no one paid any attention to them during the escape.

What are the odds of the above all coming together at the same imperfect moment to facilitate Mr Mas Selamat’s escape? This Government must think that Singaporeans all just graduated from nursery school.

Let’s get real. Even if it is to be believed that two of the surveillance cameras were not being monitored, surely there must have been the tapes. What did they show? Did the COI not look at these?

Even if these two cameras were not monitored, or working, at the time of escape, there are other cameras within the detention centre which will capture the movement of the security officers immediately after the alert went out. What did these show?

Did the COI question doctors and medical professionals who attended to Mr Mas Selamat? If no, why not? If yes, what were their reports of the prisoner just prior to his escape? When did they last observe the detainee? What was his physical condition then? Can the COI confirm that reports show that Mr Selamat was still alive on or before 27 Feb 08?

It is even more bizarre that through all this, there is not any press report about what the detainee’s family think and feel. One would imagine that Mr Selamat’s parents, siblings or spouse who have something to say especially now that he has disappeared under the most mysterious of circumstances. And yet, there is only silence. What about the foreign press? Have they been prevented to interview the family?

This COI report raises more questions than it gives answers. There is just so much farce that people can take. Now tell us the truth.

Militant Escaped Without Trousers, Remains In Singapore Monday, Apr 21 2008 

By Melanie Lee and Daryl Loo, Reuters, 21 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A suspected Islamic militant fled without his trousers from an unlocked toilet window at a Singapore detention centre, but is thought to be still in the city-state two months after his escape, the government said on Monday.

The infamous toilet

Urinal cubicle with ventilation window opened: Photos for Ministerial Statement from MHA. Click here for executive summary section of COI report. Click here for comments by Director of CID.

Singapore’s deputy prime minister, Wong Kan Seng, told parliament Mas Selamat bin Kastari could strike the city-state if he managed to hook up with the Jemaah Islamiah network, blamed for the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people.

Kastari, the suspected leader of the Singapore cell of al Qaeda-linked JI, flipped his trousers above the toilet cubicle door before escaping through a window, Wong said in a briefing to parliament on the investigation into the escape.

The infamous toilet window

“The guard had assumed that the urinal cubicle was a secure facility and that Mas Selamat could not escape from it. This assumption was wrong,” he said.

He said the two guards who escorted Kastari to the toilet had “failed in their duties” and the officers responsible would be “replaced”. The government has apologised for the security lapse but has not announced the dismissal of any senior officials.

“In my view, the security weakness of this window is the single most crucial factor which enabled Mas Selamat to escape,” said Wong, who was grilled for more than two hours by parliamentarians.

Wong said Kastari had planned his escape “over time”.

Kastari had changed into a yellow baju kurung, or tunic-like Malay traditional dress, and trousers for a meeting with his family at the detention centre, but could have taken his detention clothes with him during the escape, Wong said.

The back of the infamous toilet

Rear of family visitation block

He said he was not sure how Kastari, who has a limp, managed to get over the double perimeter fence at the centre, but said he could have “exploited a weakness” in the fencing.

the fence

Increased Risk

Kastari was being held for allegedly plotting to crash a plane into Singapore’s airport, but had not been tried. Wong said he was still in Singapore and could attack the country.

“Throughout the search in the last seven weeks there were some findings or information that led to our security agencies believing that he is in Singapore,” Wong said.

Some experts have said that Kastari could try to return to Indonesia. If that happens, Wong said Singapore could face an increased risk of an attack.

“If he could leave Singapore and connect back with his JI friends, they could well launch some plans to attack Singapore.”

Kastari’s escape sparked a massive manhunt on the tiny city-state that saw Nepali Gurkhas combing forests and a global security alert from Interpol.

Wong said that the investigation into Kastari’s escape concluded that he received no help from the centre’s guards or staff and was not assisted by someone from the outside.

The escape was seen by some experts as highly embarrassing for Singapore, which prides itself on tight security. Wong said the authorities were considering building a new detention centre inside a prison.

Singapore, a strong U.S. ally and a major base for Western businesses, sees itself as a prime target in the region after it said it foiled JI plots in 2001 to attack its airport and other sites, including the U.S. embassy and the American Club.

*************

Singapore details terror suspect escape, Gillian Wong, AP, 21 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AP) — An unsecured bathroom window and complacent guards allowed a top terror suspect to flee a high-security prison in February, Singapore’s deputy prime minister said Monday.

In announcing the results of a probe into the embarrassing escape, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said Mas Selamat Kastari, who allegedly once plotted to hijack an airplane and crash it into the city-state’s international airport, had planned his Feb. 27 escape over time.

Speaking in Parliament, Wong said Mas Selamat climbed out of a ventilation window of a toilet cubicle before a scheduled weekly visit with his family. The window did not have a grill on it, Wong said.

“In my view, the security weakness of this window is the single most crucial factor which enabled Mas Selamat to escape,” Wong said.

Wong said there was no video recording of the escape since closed-circuit television coverage of the area was being upgraded to add motion detectors.

The escape triggered a monthlong nationwide manhunt in which police, special operations officers, elite Gurkha guards and soldiers combed the island nation’s forests. Border security was tightened.

Wong said the probe found no evidence suggesting that it was an inside job, but said the guards should have kept Mas Selamat in sight by preventing him from closing the cubicle door.

“Complacency, for whatever reason … had crept into the operating culture” at the detention center, Wong said.

Wong said the officers responsible for Mas Selamat’s escape would be disciplined, penalized and replaced.

Security breaches are rare in tightly controlled Singapore, an island nation of 4.5 million people that is a 45-minute boat ride from Indonesia where Mas Selamat is alleged to have links with the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, blamed for a series of attacks that have killed more than 250 people since 2002.

In response to lawmakers’ questions, Wong said authorities believed Mas Selamat had not managed to flee the country, and that there is a risk the fugitive would launch a retaliative attack on the city-state.

“We consider him to be a key trigger in the terrorist network,” he said. “If he could leave Singapore and connect back with his (Jemaah Islamiyah) friends, they could well launch a revenge attack.”

Mas Selamat is said to be the former commander of the local arm of the Jemaah Islamiyah.

First-Hand Account Of Tight Security At Whitley Road Detention Centre Tuesday, Apr 1 2008 

Singapore’s great escape by Jufrie Mahmood, Singapore Democrats, 27 Mar 2008

It is exactly one month today since Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from the Internal Security Department (ISD) Whitley Road Detention Centre. While we await the findings of the Government appointed “independent” Committee of Inquiry.

I have not stopped wondering how the escape could have taken place. It is next to impossible for any detainee at the centre to escape. And I am saying this from personal experience.

I was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) sometime in 1979 for an offence I did not commit. I was then a translator attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Prior to my transfer to the CID I was serving in the same post in the ISD. I was unceremoniously transferred to the CID after being accused of having pro-opposition sentiments.

I had privately voiced out my disagreement towards certain government policies which I felt was discriminatory and against the spirit of multi-racialism. I was only being honest about my disgust for such policies. I was, of course, found not suitable for the ISD and thus transferred to the CID.

Not long after working in the CID, I was arrested and detained without trial. The authorities said that they had “found” some anti-government petition circulated to many organizations. The petition, I was told, was some sort of protest against the detention of a group of university students and had contained information about the ISD.

The Government’s immediate response was to arrest me. They thought I was responsible for drafting and circulating the petition. Actually the petition was drafted and circulated by a colleague, a fellow translator in the CID, who got so worked up over the detention of some of his friends, many of whom were university undergraduates.

Among those rounded up was Mr. Ahmad Khalis Abdul Ghani, an ex PAP MP who stepped down during the last GE. The ISD found out after I was already detained that the author of the petition was indeed my colleague, now deceased, and that I was not aware of its existence because it was drafted and circulated while I was on leave and absent from the office.

Nevertheless, I was charged under the Official Secrets Act for revealing ISD operational methods to the my colleague and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. After some two months in Whitley Road Detention Centre I was moved to Queenstown Remand Prison. I was released after six months for good conduct.

So as I had said, I am giving a first-hand account about the tight security at the detention centre. All movements in the centre are closely monitored. When a detainee needs to move from one station to another within the compound for further interrogation or for other purposes, he is physically escorted. The gurkha guards will hold the detainee’s hands tightly while moving from one station to another. When he goes for a toilet break the guards would stand guard outside the toilet entrance. And since toilets are not situated near or abutting the perimeter wall/fencing, escape is practically impossible.

That being the case I can think of three possible reasons that could have led to the escape – that is, assuming the escape really took place:

1. Some party or parties were in cahoots with, and assisted, Mas Selamat in staging his escape. If this is the case there seems to be a breakdown in the system of screening security personnel. This is indeed a very serious development.

2. For reasons only known to the powers that be Mas Selamat was deliberately let loose.

3. Mas Selamat has magical powers which he may have acquired through long hours of meditation during his solitary confinement.

In the meantime the Minister-in-Charge Mr Wong Kan Seng should take full responsibility for this embarrassing episode. I do not detect any signs of regret in his demeanour when making public statements concerning the case. He appears to be as cocky as ever.

Ministers who are quick to claim credit for Singapore’s achievements must also be as quick in taking the blame for any shortcoming. The economic costs resulting from the delays and traffic jams at the causeway will easily run into tens of millions of dollars.

Thus far the response by our security officials have been less than assuring and lacks professionalism. If the government is to be believed, Mas Selamat is a very dangerous individual. He is not a petty thief. But the immediate response to his escape smacks of a tidak apa (the devil may care) attitude.

If I remember correctly it took the authorities four hours before they decided to inform and engage the public, one whole week before telling the public what clothes Mas Selamat was wearing and another few days to release information that his limp would only be obvious when he runs.

I wonder at what point of time was the Home Affairs Minister informed of the “escape”, and having been informed, what his first reaction was and what directions he gave to his officers. This is very important because Singaporeans need to know the true quality of their leaders which is only evident in times of crises. After all, we citizens have been forced to accept the argument that our ministers are world class and should be paid handsomely.

I would like to suggest that the Minister for Home Affairs volunteers to have his pay cut by $1,000 for every day that Mas Selamat is not caught. And since the cabinet claims to take collective responsibility, other cabinet ministers can join him and have their pay cut as well.

The longer Mas Selamat remains free, the more money will be accumulated which can then be used to help the poor. This can also serve to mitigate PAP policies where the Poor Also Pay. Yes that has always been the PAP philosophy – the Poor Also Pay.

Coming back to Mas Selamat, if he is rearrested the Government should put him on trial. Let the world hear his side of the story. Let him defend himself in court. If after due process of law the evidence shows that indeed he is guilty, then let the law take its course.

In my opinion it is not that simple to seize a plane, pilot it over a distance and crash it into a building. According to information supplied by the authorities Mas Selamat is only a trained mechanic. Since when can a mechanic, acting alone, pilot a plane without first undergoing any formal or informal training. If the authorities have information on Mas Selamat’s flight training lessons, they have not told the public. We only keep hearing the mantra that “Mas Selamat tried to crash a plane into Changi Airport”. The people who crashed the planes into the world trade centre on 9/11 underwent months of training to learn to fly the planes.

Let Singaporeans hear the truth – on how he managed to do the impossible of escaping from the Whitley Detention Centre, the whole truth – including how he was going to fly a plane to crash into Changi Airport, and nothing but the truth – from the man himself and not some Committee of Inquiry.

Mr Jufrie was an opposition candidate in the 1988, 1991 and 1997 general elections.

WP Press Release: Escape Of Mas Selamat Tuesday, Mar 11 2008 

Escape Of Mas Selamat, Workers’ Party, 11 Mar 2008

Two weeks have elapsed since the escape of Mas Selamat Kastari from the Whitley Road Centre.

Since the occurrence, the immediate priority has rightly been placed on his recapture. Our security forces have been hard at work in an island-wide manhunt, and Singaporeans too have put up with various inconveniences at checkpoints and other areas to facilitate this massive operation.

Many questions have been raised about how this incident could have taken place in a country which prides itself on safety and security. In seeking to reassure Singaporeans, the Minister for Home Affairs has established a Committee of Inquiry under the Prisons Act “to discover how the escape occurred and to recommend appropriate actions to prevent such an incident from occurring again”. (MHA letter to media dated 7 Mar 08).

As Whitley Road Centre is gazetted by law as a prison, the government’s decision to convene the inquiry under the Prisons Act is not wrong. The problem is that the Prisons Act states that such inquiries shall not be open to the public. The Committee will submit its report to the Minister, and no part of the proceedings may be released to anyone except with the Minister’s written permission.

This raises important questions as to how much the public will eventually be told, since the Minister retains the discretion to release the findings as he sees fit. In a matter of such high public interest as the escape of a high-risk terror suspect from a government-run facility, what assurances or checks are there that the public will be given full information? In the interest of transparency, other governments have conducted public hearings into sensitive matters such as intelligence failures.

One option is for the President to appoint a Commission of Inquiry under the Inquiries Act. He can do so when he considers that having a Commission to inquire into any matter would be for the public welfare or in the public interest. This regime will allow the inquiry to proceed in public as the President shall direct. If there is concern that release of certain sensitive information will jeopardize the national interest, the President may direct that certain information not be made public.

Moreover, since Singaporeans have been marshalled to assist the authorities to hunt for Mas Selamat, the least the government could do is to keep us fully informed of the inquiry and its findings.

Sylvia Lim
Chairman
11 Mar 2008

Suspicions Over Singapore Jailbreak Sunday, Mar 9 2008 

by Alex Au, Asia Times Online, 8 March 2008

SINGAPORE – Renowned for its strict and tight government controls, Singapore’s Orwellian reputation took a hit on February 27 when terror suspect Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from the island state’s Whitley Road Detention Center.

The escape, and the government’s subsequent handling of the manhunt, have called the island nation’s terror-fighting credentials into question. Mas Selamat is the alleged leader of the Singapore cell of the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is believed to have links with al-Qaeda.

According to government sources, Mas Selamat had in early 2002 planned for a commercial plane from Bangkok to be hijacked and crashed into Singapore’s Changi Airport, in apparent imitation of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Prior to that, in 2001, Mas Selamat and his JI associates had also allegedly planned to plant bombs at a train station, the US Embassy, the American Club and other targets, as well as poison Singapore’s water system.

The main target of the US’s “war on terror” in Southeast Asia, JI is believed to operate across at least three countries in the region – Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The radical group stands accused of orchestrating a number of terror attacks, including the 2002 Bali blast in Indonesia which killed 202 people.

The group is also believed to have links and share training facilities with Islamist rebels active in the southern Philippines, including the allegedly al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf. While many JI operatives have in recent years been apprehended by their respective governments, no country, including the United States, has declared victory over the underground network.

Mas Selamat was a particularly high-value detainee. His involvement in Islamic militant activities dates to 1990, when he first joined the Darul Islam, an Indonesia-based radical movement considered by many as the forerunner of JI.

According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), by 1992 Mas Selamat was a member of the religious council of JI’s Singapore cell. He traveled to Afghanistan for military training in 1993, and again in 1998, to observe the Taliban’s austere and strict fundamentalist rule, of which the ICG reports he was “deeply impressed”.

Around 1999, Mas Selamat was reportedly promoted to Singapore commander by the group’s Southeast Asian operations chief Riduan Isamuddin, or Hambali, who was captured in Thailand in August 2003 and is now in US custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A full week after Mas Selamat’s dramatic escape, details are still sketchy as the government has reverted to damage-control mode. The authorities have remained tight-lipped about the embarrassing security breach. Their silence has allowed all manner of conspiracy theories to flourish over the Internet.

What is known is that Mas Selamat was being taken by guards for a scheduled visit with his family when at 4:05 pm he requested to use the toilet. That apparently was the last time he was seen by his prison minders. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng told the media four days later there had been a “physical breach” at the facility, but refused to elaborate. “An independent investigation is underway and we should not speculate on what and how it happened,” he said.

Schizophrenic manhunt

Thousands of police have flooded the area in the vicinity of his escape, setting up roadblocks and conducting house-to-house searches. It wasn’t until after 8 pm the day of the escape that the government announced that the leading terror suspect was on the loose. The four-hour lag between the escape and the public announcement has stoked speculation of a government cover-up.

Every day and night since, police, army personnel and tracker dogs have combed forested areas for the fugitive – to no avail. The authorities have stated their belief, without pointing to specific corroborating evidence, that the suspect is still on the island and has not fled to a neighboring country, such as Muslim-majority Malaysia or Indonesia.

Urban areas are now covered with police posters showing the face of the wanted man. Authorities have alerted the population that Mas Selamat walks with a limp and police have released information about his height and weight. It was only on the sixth day that the media were told what clothes Mas Selamat was wearing at the time of his escape.

The government’s schizophrenic impulse, simultaneously calling on the public to help, but not trusting people with specific information about the suspect, is characteristic of the Singapore government’s nanny-state ways. Mas Selamat’s escape is particularly embarrassing not only because the Singapore citizen had eluded capture before, but it was the Indonesians who had originally caught him and handed him over.

Thirteen suspected members of JI’s Singapore wing were hauled off to indefinite detention without trial under the Internal Security Act over their alleged roles in plotting the 2001 attacks. Mas Selamat, however, managed to slip through the dragnet and fled to Indonesia, where the terror group has deeper roots and is suspected to maintain a wide sanctuary network.

Indonesian police arrested him in 2003 on Bintan, an island near Singapore, when they discovered he was carrying fake immigration papers. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison on immigration charges, during which he attempted to escape by jumping off a high floor of the detention facility. He broke his leg in the failed attempt, and the injury apparently developed into a permanent limp.

Where Mas Selamat went after serving that sentence is unclear. However, he was arrested for a second time on immigration offences in Malang, Java, in 2006. He was deported to Singapore in February that same year and was held under the Internal Security Act, which allows for indefinite detention without trial if the state has cause to believe a suspect is a threat to the state. Mas Selamat was held at the Whitley Road Detention Center until his escape.

Singapore prides itself as a trusted and reliable partner to the US in matters of regional security. The US Navy regularly makes port calls and it is believed the two sides have been sharing counterterrorism-related information. It is because of that special relationship, apparently, that JI chose to scout out American targets for attacks in Singapore in 2001.

Mas Selamat’s escape calls into question the reliability of Singapore’s own security arrangements, as well as how much Western allies can and should depend on them. There have been similar breaches in the Philippines, where high-value terror suspects have escaped, allegedly through police corruption. Unless Mas Selamat is caught and a full accounting of the lapses that led to his escape are publicly disclosed, foreign confidence in Singapore’s counterterrorism credentials will be hard to restore.

Noises have already been made from Indonesia that if their police again capture Mas Selamat in their country, they will keep him in their own custody rather than deport him to Singapore. The US, too, could be prodded to reconsider its security cooperation with Singapore if and when the details of the mysterious escape finally emerge.

Alex Au is an independent social and political commentator, freelance writer and blogger based in Singapore. He often speaks at public forums on politics, culture and gay issues.

Don’t Give Us Crap!! Sunday, Mar 9 2008 

Firstly, my apologies in advance because I’m going to spew quite a bit of vulgarities in this post. Why? Because I am pissed, sick and tired, etc, etc!

Its got to do with this whole fucking Mas Selamat Kastari fiasco! I’ve been holding back my anger and frustration over this damned thing till I saw this frontpage crap by the ass-kissers in the pro-government Straits Times and also reported by the ass-kissers over at CNA!

I mean, we don’t fucking need to be told that it was due to complacency, we’re not infallible, etc, etc!!! We already know all that!! So what the fuck!! And this fucking crap takes up half of the fontpage in the Straits Times in its weekend edition!! I really don’t give a fuck what the “great old sage” of Singapore has to say! And if the fucking ass-kissers in the local media don’t really have anything worthwhile to report, then don’t fucking report!

We need full and truthfull answers. So tell us or report something which we don’t know and save us the fucking crap!!

To my readers, sorry for the outburst but I had to get it out.

Singapore Faces Blogging Ire Over Militant Escape Friday, Mar 7 2008 

By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s state-controlled media and government have come under fire from critics and Internet bloggers for failing to give the public important answers on the escape of a suspected Islamic militant.

With a cynical eye cast on local newspapers such as the pro-government daily, the Straits Times, critics say media coverage has skirted key issues and so more people were turning to alternatives such as blogs for a differing viewpoint.

“The mainstream media did its job of trying to play down the most shameful part of the incident. It is a blow to Singapore’s image as being efficient,” Seah Chiang Nee, a political commentator and former Singapore newspaper editor, told Reuters.

“The more Internet savvy would not depend on the mainstream media for news of what’s happening in the country, they would go to the Internet,” said Seah.

Mas Selamat bin Kastari, the alleged leader of the Singapore cell of al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah, a group blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, escaped on Wednesday last week from the toilet of a detention centre.

Security experts said the escape was embarrassing for a country that prides itself on tight security. The escape sparked an unprecedented manhunt in the small island and a rare apology from the government, who blamed a “security lapse”. But few further details of his escape have since been released.

Cherian George, an ex-Straits Times journalist and media lecturer, wrote on the Internet that the Singapore media had not answered the “immediate” question of how Kastari escaped.

“The question is so natural and so obvious that you’d think anyone barely paying attention would ask it. Unless, apparently, one worked for the national news media,” George wrote.

Loss of credibility

George said the absence of this question was due to media management by the government and that the main result would be a loss of credibility for the national media that would push readers to other sources.

Letters to The Straits Times have also poured scorn on the government’s handling of the crisis and flow of information.

“I am disturbed by the security lapse … more explanation is required,” wrote Rosemary Chwee Keng Chai in a letter.

Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief of the Straits Times, told Reuters by email that the paper took its responsibility to readers seriously and that George was “utterly wrong” in his conclusion or that its journalists had never asked questions on how Kastari escaped.

“If Cherian had checked with us, we would have told him that we asked that question, and many others too, many times,” he said, adding the paper had run an article exploring the issue headlined “How did he manage to escape?” on Friday.

Reuters, a global news and information provider, repeatedly asked the Ministry of Home Affairs for more details on the escape but was either referred to its initial five-line statement or was unable to reach its spokeswoman by telephone.

Singapore retains a tight grip on its national newspapers through a comprehensive legal framework that requires, among other things, a publication permit to be granted at the discretion of the minister. A substantial shareholder of a newspaper company must also gain approval of a minister.

“I think that there was tacit understanding between the government and the media,” Catherine Lim, a prominent local author and political commentator, told Reuters.

“It’s a good working relationship. Local media would never be as inquisitive, probing or rambunctious as the Western media.”

Some bloggers had a field day, morphing Kastari’s face onto a poster for TV series Prison Break and saying even students doing examinations in the city-state were accompanied to the toilet.

MSK-funny poster

“We are not like those free-wheeling and chaotic governments from Western democracies that make their leaders accountable for every little thing,” wrote Lee Kin Mun, better known under his online moniker ‘Mr Brown’, Singapore’s most famous blogger.

(Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Alex Richardson)

Mystery Of The Vanishing Prime Minister Thursday, Mar 6 2008 

PM goes AWOL, Singapore Democrats, 5 Mar 2008

Is it possible for a leader of a country to go missing in the midst of a national outcry?

Yet, this is what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has managed to do. He has not uttered a single comment about the “escape” of ISA detainee, Mr Mas Selamat Kastari.

In a situation that has caused great concern to Singaporeans and one in which his Home Affairs Minister has turned into unfunny comedy, it is imperative that Mr Lee steps up and takes charge.

He must assure the public that action will be taken to resolve the situation, demand answers from those responsible, and provide these answers to the public in a timely fashion.

It has been one full week since Mr Kastari’s uncanny disappearance and, amazingly, the nation has not heard from the PM.

At times such as these people look for leadership. The leader has, however, gone AWOL.

Even the father, MM Lee Kuan Yew, who does not easily pass up a chance of offering a sagely word or two, solicited or otherwise, is strangely quiet.

The question that is screaming to be asked is: Why? Why have the PM and MM steered clear of making public statements on the issue?

Why are they not publicly backing Mr Wong Kan Seng in his utterances? Has the PM met Mr Wong and is he satisfied that the Minister has discharged his ministerial duties in a responsible and forthright manner? If not, what course of action does he recommend?

Most important, why has PM Lee not come out and unequivocally tell the nation that the Government will present clear evidence to show that the detainee has indeed escaped and how he managed to do it?

Whatever the case, Mr Lee Hsien Loong must provide the answers. That’s what leaders do. His silence is not only deafening, but also very eerie.

The more-than-strange responses coming from the authorities over the past week indicate that there is much more than meets the eye.

This is not helped by those in charge of the government who act like they are tip-toeing through a minefield.

The media and parliamentarians have not covered themselves with glory either. At a time when hard questions need to be asked, they have been singularly negligent.

If this is the sign of things to come for Singapore, we are in more trouble than we think.

And from TOC’s Andrew Loh – Has our Prime Minister gone missing too?

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