MANILA, September 6, 2003 (STAR) The Army said yesterday it was getting closer to recapturing Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi in Mindanao after the Indonesian militant escaped from a Manila jail in mid-July.

"Al-Ghozi is still there. We have leads and, hopefully, within the week we will have good news," Army chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling told a news conference.

He did not elaborate on what the leads were or say when the Army hoped to recapture Al-Ghozi.

The self-confessed member of the Islamic militant network Jemaah Islamiyah is accused of masterminding bombings in Manila in December 2000 that killed 22 people.

Intelligence agencies also suspect his involvement in planned and actual attacks elsewhere in the region.

Al-Ghozi was arrested by Philippine police in January 2002 and jailed later that year for possessing explosives and falsifying documents. He walked out his cell at the heavily guarded national police headquarters on July 14.

Manila, a stalwart ally of Washington, receives US military aid and training for its troops. But the ease with which Al-Ghozi escaped was a major embarrassment for the government and cast doubt on Philippine reliability in the US-led war on terror.

The Bureau of Immigration said on Thursday that Al-Ghozi had used two Philippine passports to enter and leave the country before his original capture early last year.

It said the passports were put on a watchlist at airports and seaports after the Department of Foreign Affairs revoked them.

An immigration official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters on Thursday there had been no attempts to use the passports since Al-Ghozi escaped.

"But it has been confirmed that Al-Ghozi managed to use them during the time that he was not yet captured," the official said.

The immigration department said he used two aliases to obtain the passports in Zamboanga City in January and May 2001.

Parts of Mindanao are the stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but the country’s largest Muslim rebel group has denied it is harboring Al-Ghozi.

The MILF, which is expected to restart peace talks soon with the government, has complained about the heavy deployment of troops hunting for the Indonesian militant. — AFP, Roel Pareño, Jaime Laude

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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