By ringisei on 30 Apr 2008 10:44 PM
Haloscan Comments Closed
This post was initially motivated by the question: Just how dangerous is Mas Selamat and what is the threat posed by his escape? Re-reading the Jemaah Islamiyah White Paper (released 7 Jan 2003) for the official threat assessment, I was then reminded that Mas Selamat had previously managed to flee before the Internal Security Department's Dec 2001 dragnet. It seems that he had been on the run for more than a year before it was announced, in Feb 2003, that he had been detained by the Indonesian authorities. After three years, Mas Selamat was finally deported back to Singapore in Feb 2006. So this isn't the first time that he has slipped through the ISD's fingers.
Wong Kan Seng Resignation Theatre
I should say, from the outset, that I do not agree with the calls for Mr Wong Kan Seng to resign over Mas Selamat's escape from the Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC). This probably reflects the conditioning from my time working in the civil service that has remained surprisingly intact even though I resigned a few years ago. Under the Westminster doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility [UK Parliament research paper PDF | Canadian research paper], ministers are responsible for policy decisions and civil servants are responsible for administration (i.e. implementation, operationalization).
In the case of the drowning of 2SG Hu Enhuai on 21 August 2003, due to an unapproved deviation from the lesson plan on Combat Survival Training, the instructors were suspended and punished, the Commanding Officer of School of Commando Training was relieved of his command and the Chief Commando Officer was reassigned. If the parallel is strictly applied, then the two Gurkha guards and the Special Duty Operative would be suspended and punished, the Director of WRDC relieved of command and his immediate superior reassigned (I do not know who is next in the ISD's command and control hierarchy).
Nonetheless a great opportunity for a rally round the flag moment was missed. Mr Wong could have swiftly offered his resignation, recognizing the larger issues at stake. A non-MIA PM Lee could have immediately declined it, citing convention and precedent as well as the Minister's past record, emphasizing the need for his continued contributions and focusing minds on what needs to be done next. This would have pre-empted calls for his resignation, pro-actively blunted criticism for not at least offering to resign and created the momentum to move on, a momentum that can't be created by turtling and head-in-the-sand.
And/Or the Minister for Home Affairs could have voluntarily taken a pay cut or, more plausibly, foregone a bonus [I owe this possible scenario to Loy], if only to demonstrate that not only the lower ranks pay for the consequences of mistakes/failures as well as to acknowledge and undercut grumbling about ministerial salaries.
Of course, either of these options might have set unwelcome precedents. And it is understandable that the risk adverse would not want to trust in the people to trust them. Or they could be dismissed as mere posturing or wayang, ignoring how theatre and ritual are important tools in the repertoire of political communication - not just what you say but also how you say it, when you say it and who says it. Such actions would not assuage all Singaporeans, some Singaporeans might even see them as excessive, but surely such gestures would go a long way in assuaging other Singaporeans' anger, an anger that could be driven by a great affective divide, by incommensurability but also, I hazard to guess, by fear. And this fear is what makes the Mas Selamat escape different from the above Mindef case; I am afraid of what plans Mas Selamat may be able to put into motion while he is still at large.
Fear and Loathing in Singapore
Mas Selamat is known to have discussed with Hambali [who planned the 2002 Bali bombings] and others to retaliate against the Singapore Government for the disruption of JI, including a plan to hijack a US, British or Singapore plane and crash it into Changi Airport.
(JI White Paper, p17)
Ironically some of us are fearful precisely we have believed everything the government has told us before; we have accepted the warnings, that Singaporeans are constantly threatened by terrorism, the Jemaah Islamiyah plot was a real threat and that, as Singapore JI leader, Mas Selamat was the most dangerous of the lot. If we thought that the government was exaggerating or making stuff up, there wouldn't be half as much a fuss over his escape.
He has already been described as plotting revenge against Singapore and we have been told that he has been seeking the means:
...terrorists are using explosive precursors like ammonium nitrate as substitutes for explosives. Palestinian terrorists started using these in the 1990s when controls on access to conventional explosives were tightened. The local Jemaah Islamiyah network that ISD disrupted in 2001 and 2002 had planned to procure 17 tonnes of ammonium nitrate for the manufacture of truck bombs to carry out attacks in Singapore. [Emphasis added.] Overseas, the Jemaah Islamiyah successfully used explosive precursors, nitrate-based chemicals and potassium chlorate mixtures respectively, to carry out the Bali and Jakarta Marriot bombings in Indonesia. The seizure of large quantities of ammonium nitrate in London in March 2004 and the theft of 1,200 kilograms of the same material from storage facilities in France in May 2004 highlight the need for control over explosive precursors. The foiled UK airline plot, with the intended use of such precursors, uncovered in August 2006 further reinforces the need to control explosive precursors in Singapore.
Mr Wong Kan Seng, on the Arms and Explosives (Amendment) Bill (Hansard, 22 Jan 2007)
I don't know about you but I found that pretty scary. It was a fear that had been managed by swallowing our reservations about the necessary evil of detention without trial under the Internal Security Act and putting our faith in the Internal Security Department.
How do you measure the efficacy of ISD? Although there are some aspects of its work which may be open to quantitative output measures, the efficacy of an internal security agency ultimately rests on a qualitative judgement of whether it is effective in meeting its mission of keeping the country and its people safe from security threats. The record speaks for itself.
Response given by the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng, at the Committee of Supply Debate on the Ministry of Home Affairs, Fri 14 March 2003
Alas the record does speak but we're not really liking what we're hearing. And also things have been getting somewhat confusing. Mas Selamat very dangerous therefore must lock up without trial. Mas Selamat escape, what to do? And earlier we believed in the government in general and the ISD in particular to keep us safe, we are now told that we are complacent because we believed in government and ISD. Huh, liddat oso my fault?
Gerald is absolutely right that we tend to be forgetful. Most of us, through active support or tacit consent or sheer inertia/apathy, will be complicit in the PAP's big thumping victory in the next General Election and the cycle of complacency continues. OH SHI-, so it *is* true! It is my fault after all.
But perhaps the internet, not just bloggers, but the state's own online archives serve as a potent inevitably public external memory enhancement device. I only hope that the right people learn the right lessons from this fiasco. But somehow the lack of contrition and the almost casual, complacent dismissal of the anxious outcry only seems to further fuel such anxiety that nothing will really change.
Two Milestones on the Road
Two somewhat less downbeat notes to conclude. First, due to the potential impact on inter-ethnic and community relations of the JI case, MHA has been relatively transparent and forthcoming with information and updates (see Appendix below) in a way that does not apply to the other invisible 26 other people who were still in detention under the ISA as of 9 April 2007 (Hansard). I hope that such updates will continue and be expanded other ISA cases as far as prudently possible.
They had taken part in terrorist training, armed jihad and terrorist planning for attacks in Singapore. They had been deeply indoctrinated with the JI's violent and radical ideology for many years. This cannot be easily undone. For example, several of them continue to hold on to the core JI belief that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot live in harmony. They also believe in the establishment of an Islamic state through violent means. Rehabilitation, including religious counselling, for these detainees is on-going. Their cases are regularly reviewed.
Update on Jemaah Islamiyah detainees by Mr Wong Kan Seng (Hansard, 9 April 2007)
Second while it seems religious counselling have not been effective with Mas Selamat, such efforts have also been attempted in Egypt and Indonesia (See, for example, 'A jihadist recants' and 'Preachers to the converted', The Economist, 13 December 2007). More work and cooperation in this direction could hold great promise in de-radicalizing the radicalized and in the wider war for hearts and minds.
Appendix: Chronology of the Jemaah Islamiyah case
04 January 2003: Minister for Home Affairs' Comments on Why the White Paper
07 February 2003: Mas Selamat Kastari detention by Indonesian authorities announced
18 December 2003: Muhammad Arif Bin Naharudin and Muhammad Amin Bin Mohamed Yunos detained
10 June 2003: Arifin bin Ali @ John Wong detained
14 Jan 2004: Restriction Orders issued against 12 - Abu Bakar Sedek bin Hashim, Mohammad bin Hashim, Mohd Ashikin bin Mohd Yusof, Jasmani bin Bakran, Zainodin bin Ismail, Hamim bin Jaafar, Omar bin Abdul Karim, Yusri bin Mohd Yusof, Mohd Yusuf bin Mohd Noor and Mohd Shafiee bin Osman allegedly from JI; Abdul Ghani bin Omar and Mohd Abdul Rahman bin Baharom allegedly from MILF.
13 January 2005: Released - Othman bin Mohamed; Detention extended - Mohd Aslam bin Yar Ali Khan; Detained - Mohd Agus bin Ahmad Selani, Anis bin Mohamed Mansor.
22 April 2005: Released under SD: Abdul Majid s/o Niaz Mohamed; Released under SD/RO: Faisel bin Abdullah Abdat; Detained: Jahpar bin Osman.
11 November 2005: Released under SD: Andrew Gerard @ Ali Ridhaa bin Abdullah; Detained - Mohammad Sharif bin Rahmat.
06 February 2006: Mas Selamat deported to Singapore from Indonesia.
30 June 2006: Released - Azman bin Jalani, Faiz Abdullah Ashiblie, Habibullah s/o Hameed, Zulkifli bin Mohamed Jaffar and Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana; Detained - Detention of 5 JI Mas Selamat bin Kastari, Mohamed Rashid bin Zainal Abidin, Muhamad Ismail bin Anuwarul, Abdul Rashid bin Anwarul, and Abdul Nassir bin Anwarul.
09 November 2006: Released under RO - Muhammad Arif bin Naharudin and Muhammad Amin bin Mohamed Yunos.
08 June 2007: Detained - Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader, Ishak s/o Mohamed Noohu, Mohamed Hussain bin Saynudin, Mohamed Yassin s/o O P Mohamed Nooh, Ibrahim bin Mohd Noor; RO issued against Muhamad Yassin Khan bin Muhamad Yunos, Jamil bin Ansani; released under SD - Mohamed Noor bin Sulaimi, Naharudin bin Sabtu, Nordin bin Parman and Syed Ibrahim and Mohamed Yassin s/o O P Mohamed Nooh.
24 January 2008: Released - Adnan bin Musa, Fathi Abu Bakar Bafana, Halim bin Hussain and Mohamad Anuar bin Margono; RO lapsed - Abu Bakar Sedek bin Hashim, Mohamed Yusuf bin Mohamad Noor, Mohammad bin Hashim, Mohd Abdul Rahman bin Baharom and Mohd Shafiee bin Osman; Deetained - Muhammad Zamri bin Abdullah, Maksham bin Mohd Shah; RO issued against Mohammad Taufik bin Andjah Asmara.
27 February 2008: Mas Selamat escape announced