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Monday, May 11, 2009

Help from 2 Johor friends - May 10 2009


Help from 2 Johor friends
They sheltered Mas Selamat for a year but others shunned him
By Hazlin Hassan, Malaysia Correspondent

Kuala Lumpur - A desperate Mas Selamat Kastari could find only two friends willing to help him hide after he escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre last year and swam the 1km across to a Johor beach.
Abdul Matin Anol Rahmat and Johar Hassan came to the Singaporean terrorist's aid, police sources said. All others shunned him.

The two men gave him shelter for free for more than a year in a secluded kampung house in Skudai. For that, they were arrested on April 1, the same day police nabbed Mas Selamat while he was sound asleep.

Clad only in his shorts and T-shirt, the leader of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror network in Singapore barely put up a fight during the dawn raid.

Mas Selamat is now believed to be in police custody in Johor.

'He has not been transported anywhere yet,' a source familiar with the operation told The Sunday Times.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and national police chief Musa Hassan have refused to reveal where he is being held.

It is unclear how Mas Selamat contacted his two friends after he reportedly swam across the Johor Strait using an 'improvised flotation device'.

The official Bernama news agency said that Abdul Matin lived in Ulu Tiram and Johar lived in a village in Skudai.

The Sunday Times understands that Mas Selamat's two friends, who are said to be ordinary JI members, had helped hide him.

'He has no relatives in Johor but many friends,' the source told The Sunday Times. 'He probably went to Johor because he thought a few of them were still there and would help him. But most were not willing to help him as they knew that the authorities were searching for him.'

Only those two had helped him, and they have known Mas Selamat for some 10 years through JI. It remains unclear if the two were just helping him or if all three were plotting a fresh terror attack.

Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday told reporters that Mas Selamat had been planning attacks on Singapore. He did not elaborate.

Some experts say Mas Selamat's success at remaining in hiding for more than a year shows that the JI network remains in Johor. But the source said that all JI members in Johor have 'either been neutralised or caught already'.

There are no new cells in Johor or anywhere else in Malaysia, he said, adding that Mas Selamat was therefore unlikely to have been able to seek support and conduct research to organise new terror attacks.

'JI is not a threat in Malaysia or Singapore,' he said.

But the JI remains a threat in Indonesia, the Philippines and southern Thailand, where the authorities can close one cell and have a new one crop up immediately, he added.

A source told Bernama: 'During the time he was hiding in Johor, Mas Selamat only made contact with the two men. This goes to show he has neither support nor the sympathy.'

The Malaysian government has declined to reveal details of how he was arrested, but reports say that the 48-year-old man had swum more than 1km to Stulang, Johor, a stretch of beach near Singapore's Senoko power station.

Mas Selamat, who is trained in firearms and explosives and is described as 'highly dangerous', had allegedly lived as a simple villager in the state.

The Star newspaper published a photograph which it said was taken just hours after his arrest. It shows that he had grown a thick beard and thicker moustache, but otherwise looked similar to photographs of him that had been distributed everywhere in Singapore when he escaped last year.

The Chinese-language daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that Mas Selamat had allegedly been seen selling burgers at a cart in Johor Baru at night until 4am.

The report said there was speculation that besides being a means to earn income, it served as camouflage to help keep him in touch with contacts and to assess the situation on the ground.

It also reported that when Mas Selamat was nabbed, another man and a woman who were in the same house in Skudai were also arrested. It is unclear what their relationship to Mas Selamat is. The authorities here have not announced the arrest of a woman in connection with his case.

Skudai is a sprawling working- class town, 25km north-west of Johor Baru and near Senai Airport, that many Singaporeans frequent for its Giant hypermarket.

About 15km away, across the North-South Highway, is Ulu Tiram, another small town but one that is notorious as a breeding ground for JI terrorists.

A now-defunct religious school which groomed JI agents is located in the area, a place familiar to Mas Selamat. As the leader of the Singapore branch of the JI, he spent some time there in the 1990s.

Bernama said that while in Johor, Mas Selamat had planned to flee either to the southern Philippines or to Indonesia but did not go ahead with it, thinking that he was safe in Johor.

As it turned out, he made the wrong decision.

hazlinh@sph.com.sg

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