The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has announced the detention of another alleged Jemaah Islamiah (JI) member. Rijal Yadri bin Jumari, 27, was arrested in February for his involvement in the JI.
According to MHA, at the time of his arrest, Rijal was known to be working with some foreign JI elements to discuss regrouping and reviving the JI’s clandestine network. Rijal was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on 20 March.
MHA accused Rijal of being a member of the JI’s “Al-Ghuraba” cell. This was a cell set up by the JI leadership to develop its young members to become trained operatives and future leaders in the organisation. MHA says Rijal was schooled at the JI’s madrasahs. He was one of several students talent-spotted by the JI to be groomed to become a future leader in the JI organisation.
MHA said that in 2000, the JI leadership sent Rijal to Afghanistan to undergo military training. He first arrived in Pakistan where he joined the “Al-Ghuraba” cell. The JI subsequently facilitated his travel to Afghanistan where he underwent terrorist training programmes at Al-Qaeda’s Camp Farouq in Kandahar and also at a terrorist training facility in Kabul at the arrangement of Al-Qaeda. His training included weapons-handling, explosives, surveillance and guerrilla warfare. Rijal met Osama bin Laden on a number of occasions when he was at Camp Farouq.
Rijal returned to this region after his training. When the security action against the JI commenced in the region, Rijal went on the run to evade the authorities. In particular, he remained away from Singapore and has been in hiding overseas to avoid pursuit by Singapore authorities. Earlier this year, the Internal Security Department (ISD) managed to pin down Rijal’s exact whereabouts. He was arrested with the cooperation of "regional authorities". MHA did not say which country he was arrested and extradited from.
If MHA's allegations are true, Rijal is an extremely high value detainee, perhaps rivalling Mas Selamat himself. He had been trained in Afghanistan to be a future JI leader, met Osama bin Laden on several occasions and had managed to evade authorities since 2001 — all before the tender age of 27.
The timing of Rijal's arrest and announcement is certainly very interesting. MHA said Rijal was arrested in February but didn't specify which date exactly. Fellow detainee Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre on 27 February. Given Rijal's credentials, Mas Selamat must have known Rijal well. Is there any link between Rijal's arrest and Mas Selamat's escape? Conspiracy theorists are sure to have a field day speculating whether Rijal's arrest was an attempt to distract from the embarrassment of Mas Selamat's escape.
Where is Mas?
It has been almost a month since Mas Selamat's escape, and thousands of policemen, Gurkhas and military personnel, not to mention the whole Singapore population, have not been able to find him yet.
The most common conspiracy theory being circulated is that Mas Selamat was killed or committed suicide while in detention, and the authorities claimed he escaped in order to avoid blame for his death. The reasoning goes that if he was killed by the Singapore authorities, that would make him a martyr in the eyes of his JI comrades around the region. This would give them a reason to double up efforts to wage jihad against Singapore.
While I would contend that this is not impossible, I think it is highly unlikely. The political fallout from Mas Selamat's embarrassing escape is greater than if he died quietly in detention. Given our political leaders' overarching priority to ensure the population's high esteem for themselves, it is quite inconceivable that they would cook up a story that a man with a limp escaped while on his toilet break.
However, I am not convinced that Mas Selamat is still in Singapore as the authorities have repeatedly insisted. It would have been foolish of Mas Selamat to dash out of the detention centre without anyone outside to help him. It is more likely that he jumped into a waiting vehicle which took him straight to the coast and sped off in a boat to safe refuge in one of the Indonesian islands. Local papers had reported that a SingPost van was stolen on the day Mas Selamat escaped.
On 18 March, The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesian police believed Mas Selamat "would not be far" from the hideout of fellow terrorist, Noordin Mohd Top, in Tuban, East Java. This was emphatically denied by the MHA.
Previously, on 8 March, TODAY reported that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew does not believe Mas Selamat Kastari poses a threat if he remains at large in Singapore. But if he has escaped across the border, Mr Lee warned that Singaporeans would have to watch out for a return hit by Mas Selamat.
This gives our authorities even more reason not to admit (or believe themselves) that Mas Selamat has left our shores. It could be a head-in-the-sand reaction. If indeed Mas Selamat is in East Java, and MM Lee is right that he could launch a "return hit" from there, then Singapore's terrorist threat level needs to be raised several notches. This will have an impact on investor confidence and by extension, Singapore's economy.
Of course while I too pray that this is not true, I hope that our intelligence agencies have not simply dismissed the Indonesian police's assessment without further investigation. It would be outrageous if, in the effort to keep up appearances that Mas Selamat is still in Singapore, the "Great Singapore Lockdown" continues indefinitely for no good reason, while Mas Selamat watches from afar as he plans his next attack on Singapore.
Read also: The Inquirer’s (Philippines) report: RP alerted to escaped terror suspect.