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Why a lapse of four hours before public was notified?

This is a letter by student Lee Weijia sent to the Straits Times Forum Page.

TOC thanks Weijia for allowing us to publish it here.

Dear Sir,

The escape of Mas Selamat, and the subsequent response to the escape, has raised many queries. However, I would just like to touch on one sore point that struck me immediately upon hearing the news.

Why was there a lapse of 4 hours between his escape and the notification to the public? Remember the area is surrounded by houses and schools.

I would like to quote Mr. Wong Kan Seng. During parliament, Mr Wong replied: "Our security agencies assessed at the time of Mas Selamat's escape there was no imminent danger to the public. The focus then was to lock down the Whitley Road Dention Centre and then start a systematic operation to find and arrest him. The priority is to arrest him. No efforts will be spared to track him down."

Mr Wong added: "The picture of Mas Selamat is splashed all over the country. Look out for him and if there is any information of anyone that looks like him, report the case to the police and you can be sure the police will look into it thoroughly."

What a disappointing answer!

Are there techniques that can accurately predict the behaviour of a person? Can the authorities be certain that Mas Selamat, a desperate terrorist on the run, will not harm the public? What then has changed over the period of 4 hours? Why is the public's help being sought now, and not from the very start?

Mas Selamat would understandably be desperate and feeling the heat. A simple, plausible scenario where Mas Selamat had limped to a nearby road and approached an unknowing member of the public to borrow a hand phone to contact his accomplice. Within an hour, Mas Selamat could've been anywhere in Singapore! Furthermore, we can only count ourselves lucky that he did not hijack a car, or take a hostage in his bid for freedom. Any number of people could've been injured or killed if that had happened.

Why wasn't the public notified immediately?

I believe both such scenarios could have possibly been prevented by alerting the public to his escape and placing them on alert. Remember his limp would have made him easy to spot.

Furthermore, the area is bound by busy roads and residential areas. I dare say many motorists listen to the radio while driving. Would an immediate radio broadcast through all stations helped? Perhaps one of the drivers would have noticed something. Could immediate news bulletins through various avenues like TV Mobile, or SMS alerted the people?

Once again, why was there a gap of four hours? Did the authorities think that the public will riot in panic and fear if we found out about the escape? Well, the answer is all around you. Are we panicking? Or are we keeping our eyes peeled for a man with a limp?

All this has led me to one conclusion: that the authorities were hoping to apprehend him without alerting the public. It seems that the public was only alerted when the authorities recognized the fact that Mas Selamat could not be apprehended any time soon.

And this leads us to perhaps the most important question of all: If Mas Selamat had been apprehended within the four hours, would this have been reported and made known to the public at all?

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