Friday, January 16, 2009

More likely fugitive has fled

Jan 16, 2009

ALMOST a year after he escaped from custody, where is terror fugitive Mas Selamat Kastari?

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng narrowed it to either of two scenarios: one, he is in Singapore and hidden by sympathisers unknown to the authorities, or, two, he has fled the country.

Asked which was the more likely, Mr Wong told The Straits Times: 'It's very hard to say. Both scenarios are plausible. Maybe the second one is more plausible.'

He added: 'I can't say whether he's in Indonesia, the Philippines or whatever. The moment you leave Singapore, you can find a place to go.'

Meanwhile, the hunt continues, with officers deployed on the ground, including at checkpoints and around Singapore's borders, he said.

Officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Central Narcotics Bureau have been seconded to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to help out.

The Internal Security Department also continued with its intelligence-gathering, surveillance and sharing of information with regional counterparts.

Speaking about the ministry's precautions against possible attacks by Mas Selamat, the minister said: 'We are always watching this.

'It's not just us alone, we have to work very closely with all our foreign counterparts. If there's any activity, if he plans something, hopefully the ones outside will pick it up and then share it with us.'

Detained Jemaah Islamiah terrorist Mas Selamat escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre on Feb 27 last year.

That day, the ICA set in motion 'Operation Tidal Gate', closing off all exit points and in effect locking down Singapore, Mr Wong said.

'But you cannot lock down Singapore without freezing economic activity...We know that despite the best efforts at the checkpoints, Singapore being so porous, things and people can slip through.'

Referring to the public outcry that ensued in the wake of Mas Selamat's escape, with many slamming the ministry for being slow to release information, the Home Affairs Minister noted that his ministry had learnt a valuable lesson: the need to be more open with information.

'We accept that. We accept that shortcoming,' said Mr Wong.

But determining how much information to give out was not an easy decision, as accuracy had to be ensured first.

Going ahead, he promised that his ministry would make efforts to be more open in sharing information - but without compromising investigations.

He said that there was a need for Singaporeans to appreciate the complexity of the Home Team's work.

It would also help the Home Team manage public expectations, he added.

Citing last year's incident in which Singaporeans criticised the ICA for allowing through a person carrying the wrong passport, he noted that there seemed to be 'unrealistic and unreasonable expectations dominating the public discussion, that there cannot be any lapses whatsoever'.

He asked for distinctions to be made between 'clear negligence' on the one hand, and errors that arose 'as a result of a confluence of events, some of which were outside the officers' control'.


[Perhaps Singaporeans are too used to things working as they should, perfection even and are unable to tolerate even little mistakes. Mr Wong is right to be compassionate. We should too.]

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