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Sun, May 10, 2009
The New Paper
His bloody-minded will to kill & survive at all costs

By Santokh Singh

THERE was, in the end, no escape.

After 399 days on the run, Mas Selamat Kastari is back where he belongs - behind bars - albeit in a detention cell in Malaysia.

The circumstances that led to his capture, the details of his daring swim across the Johor Straits, his plans and accomplices, if there are any, remain as murky as the 1.6km to 4.8km body of water separating Singapore and Malaysia.

Security agencies are not talking. They have questions of their own. And until they have their answers, they will not risk jeopardising their plans.

What little Singapore's Home Affairs Ministry has let on reveals a man so desperate - or so daring - as to wade into the deep waters of the Straits with little more than an improvised floatation device.

What must it have been like, presumably in the dark, in the cold of night, swimming at the mercy of strong currents, alone?

What relief - or arrogance - he must have felt when he collapsed on a beach in Johor.

What drove him through the 399 days on the run, hiding a face that was plastered everywhere in Singapore?

The answer could lie somewhere in his bloody-minded determination to kill, to elude, and to survive at all costs.

Hard slog

He was, after all, no mere foot soldier. He was the leader of regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

He had already proven his guile by fooling his guards and slipping away from the Whitley Road Detention Centre on 27 Feb last year.

He remained elusive despite a massive manhunt, until the day he reached the 'northern shores of Singapore', where he began his swim.

The exact date and place have yet to be established.

What did he use to stay afloat? That is also not yet known.

But what is clear is that he was picked up by the Malaysian Security Branch (MSB) on 1 Apr, following leads provided by Singapore's Internal Security Department (ISD).

He was arrested near Skudai, about 25km from Johor Baru city. Why Skudai? Bernama reported that he has relatives living there. That is about as much as the Malaysian authorities would say.

Are we sure he is the right man?

Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng told the media yesterday that his pictures and fingerprints confirm that the man is indeed the 48-year-old Singaporean.

Why isn't he back in Singapore?

The ISD is still waiting for its Malaysian counterparts to complete their investigations before he is 'sent back to Singapore in good time'.

When did the Home Team learn of his capture?

DPM Wong, who is also the Home Affairs minister, said that the ISD received a call from its Malaysian counterparts soon after the arrest on 1 Apr.

'We've not spoken with Mas Selamat and what we have is very brief. The Malaysians want to continue to interview him and we'll let them do their work.

'Until he's brought back to Singapore, that is all we have.'

It has been a hard slog by the ISD, whose officers followed up on the numerous tip-offs from the public - to no avail.

When the breakthrough did come, it was due to the efforts of the ISD in tracking down its own lead. That lead was passed to the MSB, which made the arrest.

Singapore and Malaysia, said Mr Wong, have been constantly in touch in investigations into the JI terrorist network.

Said DPM Wong: 'I must say that the Malaysians did an excellent job in tracking down and arresting Mas Selamat.

'There has been a long-standing cooperative cordial relationship between the ISD and the MSB, and as a result of this relationship, we're able to keep each of our countries safe, while contributing to the safety and security in the region.'

But why keep news of the arrest a secret for so long?

It was, said Mr Wong, for 'good operational reasons' because the Malaysians are looking into what other terror networks may be up to.

How could he just swim across undetected?

Singapore, replied Mr Wong, cannot have a 100 per cent fool-proof cordon.

Pointing to cases of cigarette smugglers and illegal immigrants who have swum into Singapore, he said: 'Singapore is a small country, it has a long coastline, it is porous.

'It is easy for people and goods to be brought in. So long as there are gaps, people will find a way to come in and go out.'

Mas Selamat found one gap, at the Whitley Road Detention Centre, and exploited it. He found another, on Singapore's long coastline, and seized it.

On April Fool's Day, he found himself trapped.

THEY ESCAPED TOO

Took Leng How, 24

The Malaysian was arrested for the murder of 8-year-old China girl Huang Na in 2004. While being accompanied home by police officers to retrieve his handphone, he asked to stop for food. After the meal, he asked to go to the restroom. He escaped and managed to sneak across the Causeway. Took surrendered more than a week later in Penang. He was hanged on 4 Nov, 2006.

David Rasif, 45

In June 2006, the lawyer went missing with $11.3million of his clients' money, handed over to his law firm for a property deal. Rasif had left Singapore for Bangkok to join his wife, who was there to attend a company function. But on the morning of 5 Jun, he left her, saying he had urgent business in Japan - and that was the last anyone saw of him. He was struck off the lawyers' roll in 2007.

Jerry Ee, 35

The former Cortina Holdings employee is alleged to have stolen 386 watches valued at over $8.5m and more than $27,000 cash during a Christmas Day heist at Cortina's Raffles City store last year.

Ee surrendered at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok on 17 Mar with a friend and Singapore lawyer Amarick Gill. He faces 24 charges for watch thefts from the company from as early as November 2006.

Mark Koh Kian Tiong, 36

The former Criminal Investigation Department detective deserted the Singapore Police Force last year.

Koh was at the time being investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. He has since been struck off the force.

He owed about $29,000 to three banks and was declared a bankrupt in January last year after failing to repay his car loan. He did not respond to the lawsuits which were filed against him late last year.

Koh is listed under Interpol's wanted list for fraud.

Michael Vana

The ex-Malaysia Cup star was charged with six counts of corruption involving $375,000 in 1994, but jumped bail.

The Czech footballer reportedly fled the country and is still at large.

His Bayshore Park condominium was completely cleaned out of his personal belongings, except for his FAS blazer, a football and several pairs of shoes.

He was last seen having breakfast with former Lions goalkeeper Sandro Radun at the condo cafeteria on the day of his trial.

 
 
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