April 21, 2008 / 12:25 PM / 9 years ago

Militant escaped without trousers, remains in Singapore

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.

Commuters walk past a poster of suspected Islamic militant Mas Selamat bin Kastari at an MRT train station in Singapore April 21, 2008. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

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 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.

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.

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.

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