An Indonesian man, who confessed to terrorist bombings in the Philippines, has escaped from a Manila jail. The escape came as the Australian prime minister and Philippine president met in Manila to sign a new pact to combat terrorism.
Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi escaped from a Manila police encampment early Monday. Officials said al-Ghozi, along with two Philippine prisoners, apparently slipped out of the police intelligence stockade in the pre-dawn hours. He was serving a 17-year sentence for possession of explosives and falsifying travel documents.
Philippine police spokesman Colonel Leopoldo Bataoil told VOA that the circumstances for the escape are under investigation. "As to how the suspects got away, that is exactly being investigated. … The detention cells are equipped with metal grills and there is a set of guards who are supposed to be checking on these detainees from time to time. It is being investigated as to possible connivance of officers," Colonel Bataoil said.
Al-Ghozi was set to be arraigned next Monday on new terrorism-related charges.
Police have said al-Ghozi admitted involvement in five deadly bombings in Manila in December 2000 and confessed to membership in Jamaah Islamiyah, a regional Islamic terrorist network, blamed for last year's bombings in Bali, which killed 202 people.
Al-Ghozi is alleged to have conspired with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, to carry out the Manila bombings. The MILF has been waging an insurgency for a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines. Al-Ghozi also led police to a cache of explosives that officials say was intended for attacks on Western interests in Singapore, including embassies.
His escape from police custody was especially embarrassing to the government because it came while Australian Prime Minister John Howard was in Manila to discuss counter-terrorism aid to the Philippines.
Mr. Howard met with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in his opening leg of an eight-day swing through Asia. Countering terrorism is high on Mr. Howard's agenda. Nearly one half of the people killed in the October bomb attack on the Indonesian resort island of Bali were Australian.
Mr. Howard said Australia wants to help the Philippine government battle terrorism and its causes. "The Philippines has suffered from terrorism, parts of it have suffered very severely, and we are very conscious of that. And we want in every way we possibly can to work together," he said.
The two countries signed a new pact Monday that includes an Australian security assistance package for the Philippines, increased police cooperation and training.