Singapore Unsure Where Escaped Militant Is: PM

SINGAPORE ~ Singapore does not know if the country’s most wanted man is still in the country more than nine months after he escaped from detention, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Mas Selamat bin Kastari, the alleged Singapore leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant group, escaped in February from a maximum-security detention centre. The incident badly dented Singapore’s reputation for tight security.

“We don’t know. He could be here; he could be overseas,” Lee told a forum of foreign correspondents.

He said Singapore tried its best “to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere” but added: “Short though our borders may be, they are difficult to watch all the time.”

Two months after the escape, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told parliament that security agencies believed Kastari was still in Singapore, but analysts said Kastari had likely fled to nearby Indonesia.

“What’s the lesson out of this? Never let your guard down,” the prime minister said, describing Kastari as a “very determined man.”

“One day we will catch him,” Lee vowed.

On rumors that Kastari did not escape but was killed in government custody, Lee said: “I have heard that rumor. It’s ridiculous.”

Kastari was accused of plotting to hijack a plane in order to crash it into Singapore’s Changi Airport in 2001 but was never formally charged. When he escaped, he was being held under a law that allows for detention without trial.

Singapore has offered a reward of S$1 million (US$656,000), put up by local businessmen, for information leading to the recapture of Kastari whether at home or abroad.

Born in 1961 in Singapore, Kastari fled the country after an Internal Security Department operation broke up the local JI network with a series of arrests beginning in December 2001, the government said.

He was arrested in Indonesia in 2006 and handed back to Singapore.

Regional authorities have blamed JI for a string of attacks, including the 2002 bombings in the Indonesian resort island of Bali, which killed 202 people.

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