Singapore Media Watch

Friday, February 29, 2008

A Jihadi limps from a Singapore Jail

In the murky world of counter-terrorism, things are often not as they seem. So the reported escape from Singaporean custody of the alleged local leader of Jemaah Islamiyah raises some questions that may be hard to answer any time soon.

On the face of it, tightly-run Singapore has egg on its face for allowing Mas Salamat Kastari to escape from the infamous Whitley Road Detention center, apparently walking away from a toilet – or limping, since government releases describe him as walking with an impaired gait. He is still on the run despite what is described as a “massive manhunt” that includes Gurkhas, police and Special Operations Command Forces.

The Singapore government took the unusual step of apologizing for the lax security and began an investigation. According to media reports, all sourced from the government, Mas is likely to head for Indonesia, where it would be easier to hide than in small, mostly Chinese, Singapore, although hiding might be difficult anywhere because of his limp.

A Singapore citizen, Mas was arrested in Indonesia and sent back to Singapore, allegedly for plotting in 2001 to bomb the US Embassy, the American Club and Singapore government buildings. He was not put on trial but detained indefinitely under the Internal Security Act (ISA) so the details and credibility of these charges has never been tested in open court.

What astonished students of Singapore security operations is that he could have escaped at all. There appears to be no record of anyone previously escaping from the Whitley Road center, which is not guarded by ordinary jailers or bored national servicemen but by the ultra-tough, non-political Nepalese Gurkha soldiers whom Singapore retains to protect key personnel and institutions.

While no one doubts the existence of actual or would-be terror groups in Southeast Asia, Singapore’s role in the counter-terrorism business has long been viewed with some suspicion by its neighbors. First, it cooperates very closely with the US, even “rendering” suspects for detention in Guantanamo and elsewhere. It also has a history of playing up Malay/Muslim threats for domestic political purposes and to emphasize its position as a non-Muslim nation in an Islamic sea.

Some conspiracy theorists think they see a link between the timing of Mas Salamat’s escape and the visit to Indonesia of US Defense Secretary Gates.

Previous incidents involving Singapore and alleged Muslim terrorists have prompted questions that are likely to remain unanswered but are relevant given Singapore’s record of using the ISA against critics of all kinds, who usually “confess” to conspiracies as a condition of release. In the past the technique was used against “Chinese chauvinists” and “Marxists” – the latter in some cases being Catholic activists who confessed to having sent books to China, which logically could have been considered a laudable attempt to turn communists into capitalists.

The most recent round of Muslim arrests included that of a 28-year-old Singaporean Malay law student who was rendered to Singapore from an unnamed Middle East country where he allegedly had gone to study Arabic and to embark on a jihadist career. The student, a former rock singer named Abdul Basheer, is described by Singaporean authorities as a “self-radicalized” terror suspect. He was arrested in February 2007 and is held without trial under the ISA.

Doubts about whether Basheer did anything more than look at a few jihadist websites were strengthened by the announcement at almost the same time that five persons earlier arrested as JI activists had been released. The government claimed huge success for its rehabilitation program and so the five were said to “no longer pose a security threat.” Not only did that appear an extraordinarily rapid conversion but for a nation which executes people for drug trafficking offences an extraordinarily light punishment for terrorist activity.

The large counterterrorism industry thrives on rumor and speculation as well as fact. One example was in 2002 at the height of post-9/11 hysteria when Malaysia was being accused of being an al-Qaeda base. Considerable international coverage was given to a huge story, supported by documents and other “evidence” in Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, about an Indonesian terror network. Indonesia’s Tempo, a publication long noted for its independence and investigative credentials, looked at the allegations in detail and found that key names and places in the Straits Times story were fictitious.

So although Mas’s escape may be simply a matter of incompetence, the history of arrests, releases, confessions, renderings and imprisonment without trial in Guantanamo as well as Singapore, inevitably raises doubts about whether the story so far is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Source: Asia Sentinel

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Singapore: Terror suspect fled toilet

(CNN) -- A suspected terror leader has fled from a detention center in Singapore after asking to use the toilet, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Sen has admitted.

"This should never have happened," Wong told lawmakers on Thursday. "I am sorry that it had."

Thousands of security forces fanned out across Singapore in an island-wide hunt for the suspect who is accused of plotting to crash a plane into the country's airport.

Mas Selamat Kastari, suspected leader of the Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiyah's Singapore arm, escaped from the detention center on Wednesday afternoon.

"Mas Selamat was the leader of the Singapore (Jemaah Islamiyah) network. He walks with a limp and is presently at large," the Home Affairs Ministry in a statement according to The Associated Press.

Police set up roadblocks across the country, checking cars and choking traffic, local media reported. Paramilitary forces in trucks were deployed on city streets.

Jemaah Islamiyah is thought to have links to al Qaeda and is suspected of being behind the 2002 nightclub bombings in the Indonesian island of Bali that killed more than 200 mostly Western tourists.

Singapore is a strong U.S. ally and one of the world's most prosperous countries with strong international trading links.

Mas Selamet fled the southeast Asian country in 2001 after authorities cracked down on Jemaah Islamiyah and arrested dozens of its members.

To retaliate, Mas Selamet plotted to hijack a plane and crash it into Singapore's main airport, Changi, the Home Affairs Ministry said. The plot was never carried out.

He is also suspected of being behind plans to attacks the U.S. Embassy and a government building.

Indonesian authorities arrested Mas Selamet on immigration violation charges in 2003. Three years later, he was deported to Singapore, the Home Affairs ministry said.

He was being held under Singapore's Internal Security Act, which allows authorities to indefinitely detain someone without trial.

Source: CNN

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Detained Islamic militant escapes in Singapore

26 February 2008

He was wanted by Singapore police for involvement in planned attacks on the Southeast Asian city-state's Changi airport. (Reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Vivek Prakash; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

SINGAPORE, Feb 27 - The accused leader of the Singapore wing of the Islamic militant network Jemaah Islamiah escaped on Wednesday from a detention centre on the island, the government said.

Mas Selamat bin Kastari escaped from Whitley Road Detention Centre on Wednesday afternoon and he is not known to be armed, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.

"He walks with a limp and is presently at large," the ministry said. "Extensive police resources have been deployed to track him down."

Four red-coloured police vans and about two dozen riot police and soldiers were seen lining a road as they surveyed traffic and pedestrians in central Singapore on Wednesday night.

The JI has been blamed for several deadly bombing attacks in Southeast Asia, including the 2002 bombings that killed more than 200 people on Indonesia's resort island of Bali.

Singapore, a strong U.S. ally and a major base for Western businesses, sees itself as a prime terrorist target in the region after it foiled JI plots in 2001 to attack its airport and various Western-linked sites, including the U.S. embassy.

Kastari was arrested by the Indonesian police on the Indonesian island of Bintan in January 2006 before he was sent to Singapore.

He was wanted by Singapore police for involvement in planned attacks on the Southeast Asian city-state's Changi airport.

(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Vivek Prakash; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Source: Reuters

Myanmar opposition calls for boycott of Beijing Olympics

International Herald Tribune

25 February 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand: Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar called Monday for the world to boycott this year's Beijing Olympics over what they said was China's continuing support of Myanmar's military dictatorship.

The 88 Generation Students group, which was instrumental in last year's pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar, urged "citizens around the world ... to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics in response to China's bankrolling of the military junta that rules our country of Burma with guns and threats." Myanmar is also known as Burma.

The 88 Generation Students joined a growing group of critics urging an Olympic boycott over complaints ranging from Beijing's human rights record to its failure to more actively press Sudan — where China is a major oil buyer — to end violence in the Darfur region.

Hollywood director Steven Spielberg quit earlier this month as an artistic adviser for the Beijing Olympics, saying China was not doing enough about Darfur.

The 88 Generation Students accused China — one of Myanmar's key trading partners — of arming their country's junta and failing to facilitate a meaningful dialogue between it and detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party.

"Our constructive outreach to China has been met with silence and more weapons shipments," the group said in a statement.

A Myanmar government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962 and has not had a constitution since 1988, when the army violently suppressed pro-democracy protests and the current junta took power.

In September the junta crushed peaceful protests that were triggered by rising food prices but expanded to include demands for democratic reforms. The U.N. estimates the crackdown killed at least 31 people, and thousands more were detained.

Under intense international pressure, the junta announced plans this month for a referendum in May on a proposed new constitution written under military guidance, to be followed by general elections in 2010.

The junta's domestic and international critics, however, say the plans are undemocratic because they do not involve open debate and bar Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from taking part in the elections.

During a visit to Singapore on Monday, U.N. special envoy for Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari and Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo hailed the planned referendum and election, but agreed that "for national reconciliation to be achieved, the referendum and elections had to be credible and inclusive," the Foreign Ministry said, without elaborating.

Gambari said Friday he was frustrated with Myanmar's slow progress toward democracy. He expects to visit Myanmar in the first week of March to resume talks with the country's military rulers.

Suu Kyi's party won the last elections in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power. She has been in prison or under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

Source: The International Herald Tribune

Buck up or lose Voltri deal, Merlo tells PSA-Sinport

By John McLaughlin in Genoa - Tuesday 26 February 2008

GENOA’S new port president Luigi Merlo warned PSA-Sinport chief executive Eddie Teh at a meeting on Monday that the Singaporean company may lose the concession at the port’s flagship Voltri terminal if it did not take immediate steps to improve its performance.

Interviewed at the port authority’s Palazzo San Giorgio headquarters, where he took over earlier this month, Mr Merlo said PSA subsidiary VTE had consistently failed to meet the volume targets established under the terms of its operating concession at Voltri.

Though it had finally hit target last year, exceeding 1m teu in throughput for the first time, 2008 had begun disastrously. The terminal was already under severe pressure from a combination of local transport strikes, surging volumes, and a slowdown by customs workers when it made the ill-advised decision to introduce a new Cosmos terminal management system.

The result was several weeks of near-chaos, with Voltri forced to call a halt to all container exports and furious agents and forwarders initiating legal action over loss of earnings. The port authority will take a similar course, Mr Merlo confirmed that a port committee meeting tomorrow is likely to approve a claim for lost revenues and damage to the image of the port.

Mr Merlo’s hard line with VTE is the culmination of years of disgruntlement within local shipping circles at the terminal operator’s poor performance, with poor communication and lack of consistent investment in the terminal cited as critical weaknesses.

But it is also indicative of Mr Merlo’s desire to give new impetus to a port that has been adrift for years, its market share slipping away inexorably as its leading lights bickered, and in the absence of a long-term development plan worthy of the name.

He said Mr Teh had agreed to discuss specific measures to improve Voltri’s performance at an upcoming PSA board meeting. He added that “they have six months to put things right. But their volume target this year is 1,163,000 teu and they have already had two poor months. And this is a terminal that should be able to handle 2m teu.”

Voltri’s woes come at a dark time for the port, with Giovanni Novi, Mr Merlo’s predecessor charged with fraud, extortion and interfering with a public bidding process in relation to the apportioning of space at the port’s multipurpose terminal and a range of other Genoese notables under investigation.

Yet Mr Merlo insisted that the calamitous start to the year also provided an opportunity for a thorough house-cleaning. He said he was in the process of analysing the various concession contracts for the multipurpose terminal, and that where terminal operators were not meeting expectations he would move to ensure they did on pain of eviction, seeking special powers from Rome if necessary.

Though the fate of the multipurpose terminal, and specifically a decision on whether to press ahead with a new concession bidding process, must await legal developments, he said that his preference was for a single concession. The current system, with the terminal split into small slices run by a number of discrete operators, “is the wrong way to run a port. ”

Genoa’s terminal operators will only have a future if they join together,” he said, adding that while he hoped to set the port of Genoa on the right course “without trauma or explosions,” tough measures might well be unavoidable.

As for the port’s long-term development, he said he still hoped to secure acceptance for the construction of a new box terminal at the site of the former steel works at Cornigliano. He also said he would work with Genoa’s mayor, Marta Vincenzi, on integrated development plans for both port and city, the better to resolve disagreements early and speed the process.

Source: Lloyd's List