Singapore’s security forces will scale back a nationwide ground search for a top Muslim terror suspect who made a stunning escape from a high-security prison one month ago, the deputy prime minister said Wednesday.
Troops hunting for Mas Selamat Kastari, who allegedly once plotted to hijack an airplane and crash it into the city-state’s international airport, will start “targeted and focused searches based on specific intelligence and leads,” said Wong Kan Seng.
He gave no reason for the change in tactics. But efforts to track down Mas Selamat have no doubt been costly. Police, special operations officers, elite Gurkha guards and soldiers have been combing the island nation’s forests since his embarrassing Feb. 27 jail break. Security also has been tightened at land, air and sea checkpoints.
Wong said that while the deployment of large ground forces would be scaled down, “they remain operationally ready for immediate deployment when needed,” according to a statement posted on the Home Affairs Ministry’s Web site.
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.
Wong said authorities believed Mas Selamat was still in the city-state and have set up coastal observation points to make sure he does not flee.
The nation’s leaders have described Mas Selamat’s jailbreak as a setback to the reputation of the usually well-policed country.
Mas Selamat had been held in Singapore custody since February 2006 under the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.