Singapore’s most-wanted militant arrested after escape

Kevin Lim

Revisit of The Mas Selamat Story

The suspected leader of a radical Islamist group linked to the 2002 Bali bombings has been arrested 15 months after he escaped from a high security prison in Singapore, the government said on Friday.

Mas Selamat Kastari was the alleged mastermind of a plot to hijack a plane and crash it into Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Singapore authorities have also accused him of planning several truck bomb attacks across the island state.

A Singapore government spokeswoman confirmed the arrest but gave no other details on where or when.

Officials said Mas Selamat was a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a pan-Asian radical Islamic group linked to al-Qaeda responsible for several bomb attacks across Southeast Asia, including the Bali bombings.

His escape from the Whitley Road Detention Center in February 2008 prompted a manhunt in Singapore and led to the sacking of several Singapore officials.

Fugitive Islamist militant arrested: Singapore


The alleged leader of an Islamic militant group accused of plotting to crash an airliner in Singapore has been arrested in Malaysia after more than a year on the run, according to the government.

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement Mas Selamat bin Kastari had been captured by Malaysian authorities, but gave no other details.

“Mas Selamat has been arrested by the Malaysian Special Branch (MSB) in a joint operation between the MSB and the Internal Security Department,” the statement sent to AFP said.

The Straits Times said Kastari was caught on April 1 in the Malaysian state of Johor, which sits just across a causeway from Singapore, and has been held in custody by Malaysian authorities since.

Kastari is said to be the head of the Singapore cell of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an underground group linked to Al-Qaeda and blamed for the 2002 Bali bombing and other bloody attacks in Southeast Asia.

Singapore officials have alleged he was part of a plot to hijack an airliner in Bangkok and crash it into Changi airport — one of Asia’s busiest — in 2001 following the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Now 48, he escaped from his high-security detention centre in Singapore on February 27 last year after squeezing through a toilet window that had no bars and climbing over a fence.

Kastari’s escape triggered a massive manhunt, but a flood of tips from the public, some inspired by a bounty of one million Singapore dollars (647,520 US dollars) put up by two local businessmen, turned out to be false alarms.

He had not been formally charged at the time of his escape, and was being held under the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial.

The Straits Times cited “senior intelligence sources” as saying Kastari was arrested on April 1 in Johor.

It is believed he is being held for interrogation by Malaysian authorities under the country’s own internal security law, which also allows for detention without trial.

The newspaper said he was thought to have been in Johor since his escape, and that his re-arrest followed a joint operation by Malaysian and Singaporean security agencies.

“He is an extremely skilled and dangerous terrorist and the fact that he has been recaptured improves the security situation in Singapore and the region,” said John Harrison, a security analyst at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

“This is irrespective of what he may or may not have been able to accomplish during his escape,” he told AFP.

Harrison, manager of research at NTU’s International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said whatever morale boost the JI gained from the escape has now been erased.

“Secondly, what it does show is that there is a tremendous regional cooperation against JI and that as long as that continues the JI will not be able to successfully re-establish itself as the organisation that it once was.”

Harrison praised Singapore and Malaysian authorities for their cooperation and said they had kept the news under wraps to get more intelligence away from the media glare.

Sidney Jones, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, applauded the arrest, but said it was not an ending.

“In some ways the bigger danger will still come from the people at large,” she told AFP from Jakarta.

“I think we’ve got a number of little splinters. I don’t think this arrest will change their strategies.”

She said “the important thing is (to) keep up the pressure from the law enforcement agencies and try to find these other people.”

Rohan Gunaratna, a security analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, described Kastari’s arrest as a “very significant blow to the JI network because JI is trying to revive.”

“Mas Selamat is a key icon of the Jemaah Islamiyah organisation, he is one of the most dangerous terrorists in this region, his arrest is a major setback to the JI organisation,” he told broadcaster Channel NewsAsia.

Kastari had fled Singapore in December 2001 following an Internal Security Department operation against Jemaah Islamiyah. He was arrested in Indonesia in 2006 and handed back.

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