Saturday, March 1, 2008




On the afternoon of December 15,2007, Rashid Rauf, a terrorist suspect of Mirpuri origin living in the UK, who had been in Pakistani custodymanaged to escape from custody as he was being taken back to the jail after appearing before a court in Islamabad. Rashid Rauf, who isrelated by marriage to Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) of Pakistan, had been arrested by the Pakistaniauthorities in August,2006, in connection with the investigation into the alleged plot by some jihadis in the UK----many of them of Pakistaniorigin--- to blow up a number of US-bound planes starting from the UK. The Pakistani authorities were projecting him as the mastermind ofthe plot, but were evading repeated British requeasts to hand him over to the British Police for interrogation in connection with the plot.While he was being taken back to the jail, he reportedly asked for the permission of his guards to pray in a mosque on the way. He escapedfrom there after getting rid of the hand-cuffs. He has not so far been traced. There is a suspicion that he has taken shelter with the JEM,which has a strong presence in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

2. In a similar incident in Singapore, Mas Selamat Kastari of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), who was under detention under the Internal SecurityAct, was reported to have escaped on the afternoon of February 27,2008, while he was being escorted to meet some family members. According to a statement made in the local Parliament the next day by Mr. Wong Kan Seng , the Minister for Home Affairs, a lapse insecurity at the Whitley Detention Centre facilitated his escape.He told MPs, who had raised the matter in the Parliament, that Mas Selamathad been taken from his cell to another part of the detention centre for a visit from his family. He then asked to be allowed to visit the toilet,from where he escaped.

3.Mas Selamat had reportedly met Hambali, the operational leader of the JI, in 2001 and discussed, inter alia,a plot to hijack a plane andcrash it into the Singapore Changi Airport. He escaped from Singapore when the local Police discovered a sleeper cell of the JI inDecember,2001, and started rounding up its members. He went to Indonesia and assumed a false identity there as an Indonesian nationalunder the name Edy Herianto. He was arrested by the Indonesian authorities in the island of Bintan in February 2003 and jailed forimmigration offences for 18 months. After his release, he was arrested again on January 20,2006, on a charge of using a false identity cardand handed over to the Singapore Police on February 3,2006. He had since then been under detention in Singapore.

4. A man-hunt launched by the Singapore security forces after his escape on February 27 has not succeeded so far in re-arresting him. TheSingapore authorities are holding an enquiry into the circumstances that enabled his escape. Whereas in the case of Rashid Rauf,complicity by the police guards enabled him to escape, there is no reason to suspect similar complicity by the Singapore guards. Thisseems to be a case pf pure negligence, which he has noticed and exploited.

5. Among the questions to be probed are: Did the idea of an escape come to him on the spur of the moment as he noticed the lack ofalertness of the guards or had he been planning his escape for some time? If he had been planning it for some time, he must have been intouch with some potential accomplices in Singapore? If so, who are they? Who has given him shelter in Singapore? If he escapes fromSingapore, where is he likely to go?

6. If he is found to have had accomplices in Singapore, that should be a matter of concern to the Singapore authorities since it couldindicate the possible presence of undetected sleeper cells of either the JI or the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Singapore. The LET has been intouch with the JI for many years and the brother of Hambali and some Malaysians and Indonesians were arrested in 2003 from a madrasa inKarachi run by the LET. For the last three or four years, the LET has reportedly been using its sympathisers in Singapore for funnellingmoney to its members in India through the hawala channel. Next to Dubai, Singapore is the most important hawala channel for thePakistan-based jihadi organisations. The LET has also been trying to set up sleeper cells in Tamil Nadu, the Eastern Province of Sri Lankaand the Maldives to recruit Tamil Muslims, who could be used for its operations in South India and South-east Asia. Many Singaporecontractors work in the Maldives and their staff are an important source of recruitment for the LET and Al Qaeda for the collection ofintelligence and logistic purposes.

7. There is no danger of an imminent act of violence by Mas Selamat. He is most probably still in Singapore. However, if he has alreadyescaped from Singapore, either he would have gone to Indonesia, where one of his sons used to study, or to the Maldives and from there toPakistan. The chances of his fleeing to Pakistan through India are rated low. While his escape is a serious embarrassment to the Singaporeauthorities, it is unlikely to lead to any fresh acts of jihadi terrorism in the area in the immediate future. (1-3-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )