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Singapore Fugitive Islamist Leader Captured in Malaysia

  • Daniel Schearf

A suspected leader of an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group has been re-captured in Malaysia after more than a year on the run. Mas Selamat Kastari was being held under Singapore 's internal security act but managed a rare escape.

Malaysian authorities say Mas Selamat Kastari was arrested in early April in Johor state near the border with Singapore .

He was captured in a joint operation involving security agencies from the two countries and after an international man-hunt since his escape last year.

Singaporean authorities say Mas Selamat is the leader of the Singapore branch of Jemaah Islamiyah, also called J.I, a militant Islamist group with ties to al-Qaida.

Sidney Jones is a senior advisor on Asia and terrorism with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta. She says it is surprising he was found in Malaysia.

"We thought that if it had taken this long to capture him that he must be in Indonesia because it seemed as though Indonesia was the safest network for him. But, instead, he was in Malaysia , and not only in Malaysia but in the area that used to be the headquarters of J.I. It was as though the man went back to base," she said.

Mas Selamat Kastari was being held in Singapore for a series of terrorist plots, including bombings and a plan to hijack an airplane and crash it into a Singapore airport.

He escaped the jail by squeezing through a bathroom window. The rare lapse in security was a huge embarrassed to Singapore, where laws are strict.

Jones says the threat of terrorism in Southeast Asia has declined substantially in the last few years, partly due to better law enforcement.

"The chances of any kind of an attack in Singapore are almost nil now. I think they're higher in a place like Indonesia where the network remains much stronger than anywhere else in the region," she said.

Mas Selamat Kastari fled Singapore in 2001 after a crackdown there against Jemaah Islamiyah. He was later arrested in Indonesia and in 2006 extradited to Singapore .

Jemaah Islamiyah is thought to be behind a series of deadly bombings in Indonesia, including an attack in 2002 in the resort of island of Bali that killed over 200 people, most of them tourists.