EDITORIAL: THE HUNT FOR AL-GHOZI? ONE DOWN, TWO TO GO

Manila, August 9, 2003 (STAR)  - The nation is happy that one of the three terrorists who escaped from Camp Crame last month has been accounted for. Abu Sayyaf member Abdulmukim Edris was apprehended this week by the military in Lanao del Norte together with a commander of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mahmud Ismael. Edris, who escaped last July 14 from the headquarters of the Philippine National Police, had a P3-million price on his head.

The nation would have been happier, however, if Edris had not been killed. Military officials said Edris and Ismael tried to grab the rifles of their captors on their way to Army headquarters, then tried to make a dash to freedom. The two were shot dead. It would have been interesting to find out, at the very least, what Edris was doing in the company of an MILF commander. Did any soldier manage to extract from Edris even a hint of how he escaped from Camp Crame?

What the soldiers apparently got were clues on the whereabouts of Edris’ fellow fugitives, Abu Sayyaf member Omar Lasal and Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi. Yesterday military officials said they had narrowed the manhunt for Al-Ghozi to Lanao del Norte. Malacañang, for its part, expressed optimism that Al-Ghozi would soon fall.

If that happens, it would be great news in a season of negative developments. Al-Ghozi’s escape on the day Australian Prime Minister John Howard was visiting Manila turned the nation into an international laughingstock, and made one newsmagazine describe the country as the weakest link in the war on terror. After nearly a month of fruitless search for the fugitive, there were fears that Al-Ghozi, the top bomb maker of the Islamist terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), was responsible for the recent bombing in Jakarta. Now government forces appear to be finally closing in on Al-Ghozi.

The nation would be happiest if Al-Ghozi is recaptured and talks about his latest escapade, from the day he walked out of a supposedly maximum-security detention center to his days on the run. Apart from disclosing who might have helped him escape, Al-Ghozi must be interrogated for possible new terrorist attacks in the JI pipeline. It has often been pointed out that dead men tell no tales. Al-Ghozi must survive capture and live to tell his story.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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