Thu, 24 Jul 2003

RI, RP embark on massive manhunt for al-Ghozi

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua, Bali

Indonesia and the Philippines will cooperate in a massive manhunt for a feared leader of regional terrorist network Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) who escaped from high security Camp Crame prison in Manila, the Philippines, earlier this month.

Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda and his Philippine counterpart Blas Ople met in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Wednesday, and agreed to combine forces in tracking down Fathurrahman al-Ghozi, an Indonesian responsible for a string of bomb attacks that claimed 22 lives in Manila in December 2000.

A Manila court sentenced him to 15 years in prison after he confessed to his role in the December 2000 bombings and a plot to bomb Western embassies in Singapore.

"The Philippines will send its police chief and intelligence chief to Indonesia as soon as possible to synchronize efforts to recapture al-Ghozi," Hassan said after the meeting on Wednesday.

In Jakarta, chief of detectives Erwin Mappaseng said on Wednesday that the police had received an official letter from the Philippine police requesting assistance in arresting al- Ghozi.

Erwin said the police had tightened surveillance at Indonesian ports and airports to anticipate Fathur's attempted return to Indonesia.

Fathur, who is a bomb expert, escaped from Camp Crame along with two Filipino Abu Sayyaf guerrillas detained on suspicion of kidnapping.

"We share a common concern regarding terrorist activities in our respective countries and are determined to enhance efforts to crack down on the (JI) terrorist network," Hassan said.

On the same occasion, Ople said: "We expect to recapture al- Ghozi within two or three days. We have received assurances from Minister Hassan that all access points from the Philippines to Indonesia are being watched by security personnel.

"Should al-Ghozi mistakenly enter Indonesia, he will be promptly arrested," he said.

Ople said more than 5,000 police were currently looking for al-Ghozi.

Al-Ghozi was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2002 for carrying a huge amount of explosive material into the country. He is believed to be a leader of JI.

He managed to escape from the high security detention center with two members of the militant Moro Liberation Front.

Since the escape, there has been speculation that al-Ghozi may have returned to Indonesia due to the arrest of nine suspected members of JI a few days earlier in Semarang, Central Java, and Jakarta.

Wirayuda said that since al-Ghozi's escape, the Philippines had been in regular contact with Indonesia in efforts to hunt him down.

"As the incident (the escape) was almost at the same time as the arrest of JI members and the confiscation of tons of explosives, we need to be on high alert concerning the whereabouts of this man," Wirayuda said.