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Manhunt on after terrorist escapes

Thousands of police and soldiers searched on Thursday for an accused terrorist who escaped from a detention centre.

world Updated: Feb 28, 2008 14:05 IST

Thousands of police and soldiers searched on Thursday for an accused terrorist who escaped from a detention centre where he was being held for allegedly planning to crash a hijacked plane into Singapore's Changi Airport, authorities said.

Mas Selamat Kastari, 47, fled on Wednesday afternoon from the Internal Security Department's Whitley Road centre despite armed guards, high fences topped with barbed wire and closed circuit television cameras along the perimeter.

He was not believed to be armed, said the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Mas Selamat was accused of being the leader of the Singapore branch of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the top Southeast Asian Islamic terrorism network with links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.

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

Gurkha and Special Operations Command officers fanned out several kilometres from the detention centre and formed a perimeter around the area.

Officers with flashlights went from house to house throughout the night and stopped vehicles at roadblocks.

The alert also went out to all border checkpoints, the police coast guard and taxi companies, which broadcast a message telling others to watch for the suspect.

The ministry did not say how Mas Selamat managed to escape. The question was on the minds of Singaporeans going to work on Thursday while they expressed full confidence that Mas Selamat would be caught soon.

The Indonesian-born Mas Selamat was accused by the ministry of having been involved in plans seven years ago to attack the US Embassy, the American Club and Singapore government buildings in retaliation for Singapore's arrest and detention of fellow JI members.

Singapore has been a staunch US ally and supports the presence of the US-led coalition in Iraq.

Mas Selamat left the city-state in December 2001 following the arrests of nearly 40 other suspected JI members.

He was arrested twice in Indonesia before being handed over to Singapore in February 2006 and has been held under the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.

JI has been blamed for a spate of terrorist attacks in southeast Asia that have killed more than 250 people since 2002. The worst attack was on the Indonesian island of Bali where more than 200 were killed.