JAKARTA, INDONESIA: A day after they ordered pictures of escaped Singaporean terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari to be posted nationwide, Indonesian police Sunday (6 July) said they were not certain that the fugitive is in the country.
Police spokesman Abu Bakar Nataprawira told The Straits Times that police chief Sutanto had been misquoted by the local press when it reported that he had issued the order after being informed that Mas Selamat had slipped into Indonesia.
"He only said that pictures of Mas Selamat would be distributed nationwide for people to recognise the man," Inspector-General Abu Bakar said. "He didn't say that he had information that Mas Selamat is already in Indonesia."
He told The Straits Times that General Sutanto had instructed all police divisions to distribute pictures of the terrorist as a precaution.
Police hope it will help Indonesians recognise Mas Selmat and thus inform the authorities if he tries to enter the country, he said.
"Frankly, we don't have solid evidence to show that Mas Selamat Kastari is already in Indonesia," Abu Bakar said.
"Reports about the man being in the country are all hearsay. We don't know where he is."
Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday said security forces here are working closely with their Indonesian counterparts in the hunt for the missing man.
"However, there has been no intelligence or information to date to suggest that he is in Indonesia," an MHA spokesman said.
The interest in Mas Selamat follows the arrest of Singaporean English teacher Mohamed Hassan in a security swoop by Indonesia's anti-terror police, Detachment 88, in Palembang on 28 June.
Indonesian police then rounded up nine more militants, all Indonesians, and seized a cache of powerful bombs and firearms.
The Indopos newspaper on Thursday (3 July) quoted police sources as saying that some of the suspects had told police that Mas Selamat, who escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre in February, was in Indonesia.
Thus, when the word came that a Singaporean was among those detained in Palembang last week, it was initially thought that he could be Mas Selamat, until police clarified the suspect's identity.
But rumours remain strong that Mas Selamat could be in Indonesia.
Security expert Sidney Jones was quoted by Kompas online on Saturday (5 July) as saying that she too thought Mas Selamat could be in the country, although she was not sure where.
Abu Bakar, acknowledging the widespread rumours, asked: "But where is the evidence that he is already in Indonesia?"
He also said that Singaporean suspect Mohamed Hassan was still being held in Palembang to help police hunt for other suspects in the province, although reports from the South Sumatra capital said that the militant had already been transferred to Jakarta.
On Saturday, police raided the rented house of Mohamed Hassan before searching the house of another suspect to look for more evidence of their terrorist activities.
Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, said terrrorists in Indonesia were now on the run following last week's raids in Palembang, and added that more arrests could follow.
"We are not sure whether we have crippled them, but the fact is that they are on the run," Agence France-Presse quoted Wirajuda as saying on the sidelines of a meeting of the Group of Eight developing Muslim nations.
"We have uncovered various terrorist cells in the past few years, meaning that they are within our reach, and that's why we feel more secure." (By SALIM OSMAN/ The Straits Times/ ANN)