Singapore’s Great Escape Continues

A former detainee tells how hard it is to break out of Singapore’s most secure detention facility

singa-wireIt has been a month since Mas Selamat Kastari, Singapore’s celebrated supposed jihadist, escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre. We continue to await the findings of a government-appointed Committee of Inquiry into how Mas Selamat could escape from this Internal Security Department facility.

I have not stopped wondering about this because I know from personal experience that it is next to impossible for any detainee to escape that center. I was detained under the Internal Security Act some time in 1979. I was then a translator attached to Singapore’s Criminal Investigation Department. Prior to my transfer to the CID I had served in the same post in the Internal Security Department.

I was transferred after being accused of having pro-opposition sentiments because I had privately voiced my disagreement about certain government policies.

Not long after working in the CID, however, I was arrested and detained without trial. The authorities said that they had found an anti-government petition circulated to many organizations. The petition, I was told, was some sort of protest against the detention of a group of university students and contained information about the ISD.

The government thought I was responsible for the petition. Actually a colleague was responsible, a fellow translator in the CID who got worked up over the detention of some of his friends, many of whom were university students.

Among those rounded up was Ahmad Khalis Abdul Ghani, an ex-People’s Action Party MP who stepped down during the last general election. The ISD found out after I was detained that the author was my colleague, now deceased, and that I was not aware of its existence because it was drafted and circulated while I was on leave and absent from the office.

Nevertheless, I was charged under the Official Secrets Act for revealing ISD operational methods and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. After some two months in Whitley Road Detention Centre I was moved to Queenstown Remand Prison. I was released after six months for good conduct.

So about the security at the detention center. All movements are closely monitored. When a detainee needs to move from one station to another within the compound for further interrogation or other purposes, he is physically escorted. The Gurkha guards will hold the detainee's hands tightly while moving from one station to another. When he goes for a toilet break the guards stand outside the toilet entrance. And since toilets are not situated near or abutting the perimeter wall or fence, escape is practically impossible.

That being the case I can think of only three reasons that could have led to Mas Selamat’s “escape” – assuming that is what happened:

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  • Someone assisted Mas Selamat in staging his escape. If this is the case, there seems to be a breakdown in the system of screening security personnel. This is indeed a very serious development.
  • For unknown reasons Mas Selamat was deliberately let loose.
  • Mas Selamat has magical powers, which he may have acquired through long hours of meditation during his solitary confinement.

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Thus far the response by security officials has been less than assuring. If the government is to be believed, Mas Selamat is a very dangerous individual with al-Qaeda links but the immediate response to his escape smacks of a tidak apa (the devil may care) attitude.

If I remember correctly it took the authorities four hours before informing the public of the escape, one week before telling the public what Mas Selamat was wearing and another few days to release the information that his limp would only be obvious when he runs.

I wonder at what point the Home Affairs Minister was informed of the "escape?" Having been informed, what was his first reaction and what directions did he give to his officers?

The public has been told that Mas Selamat was seeking to seize an airplane and crash it into Changi Airport. This is not an easy thing to do. According to information supplied by the authorities Mas Selamat is only a trained mechanic. Since when can a mechanic, acting alone, pilot a plane without training? If the authorities have information on Mas Selamat's flight training, they have not told the public. We just keep that "Mas Selamat tried to crash a plane into Changi Airport". The people who crashed the planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, underwent months of training to learn to fly. Did Singapore’s dangerous terrorist do the same?

Singaporeans deserve to hear the truth. How did this desperado do the impossible by escaping from the Whitley Detention Centre? How was he going to crash a plane into Changi Airport? If they ever catch him, the government should put him on trial. Let him defend himself in open court. If the evidence shows he is guilty, then let the law take its course.

This was adapted from a statement by the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. Jufrie Mahmood was an opposition candidate in the 1988, 1991 and 1997 general elections.

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