GMA SAYS SHE WON'T ACCEPT FAILURE IN HUNT FOR AL-GHOZI

Manila, July 23, 2003 By Marichu Villanueva (Star) President Arroyo said yesterday she would not accept failure in a massive hunt for convicted Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi.

"A dead end in this investigation, just as a dead end in the hunt for Al-Ghozi, is not acceptable," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement.

"We must leave no stone unturned because this is a primary test case for the rule of law and the integrity of the police," the President added.

Mrs. Arroyo called the escapes last July 14 of Al-Ghozi and two Abu Sayyaf terrorists a national security concern, and said if there was police collusion, "all those involved up to the mastermind, must be prosecuted and locked up."

Police have launched one of the biggest manhunts in recent memory, with 63 special tracker teams, backed by over 5,000 troops, 300,000 licensed security guards and peace officers from some 42,000 villages nationwide.

Neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia also are on the lookout for Al-Ghozi, one of Southeast Asia’s most dangerous terrorists.

Two slum areas were raided by police in Manila yesterday, but no trace was found of Al-Ghozi and two Filipino members of the brutal Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist group, police said.

The three escaped on July 14 from the high-security detention center of the Intelligence Group at Camp Crame, the national police headquarters.

It was a major embarrassment for Mrs. Arroyo and her high-profile, US-backed war on terrorism, amid suspicions of police collusion.

Mrs. Arroyo yesterday ordered Director General Hermogenes Ebdane, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), to secure those with testimony or evidence so they can be made available to a fact-finding board she had created.

"This investigation must be done meticulously and thoroughly because it concerns our national security," Mrs. Arroyo said. "The people must know the truth because this is a matter that concerns their own safety and that of their communities."

She asked the board to recommend "comprehensive" measures to prevent such escapes in the future.

Former justice secretary Sedfrey Ordoñez, head of the panel investigating the escape, said his group would start hearing the testimony of police officers and personnel of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which supervises the PNP, today.

Police incompetence and corruption has been blamed for last week’s embarrassing escape. At least four jail guards have been criminally charged, while several others were being investigated.

There are suspicions that officials colluded to allow Al-Ghozi to escape from his cell, which showed no signs of being forced open.

Jemaah Islamiyah is a Southeast Asian group believed linked to al-Qaeda.

Al-Ghozi has confessed to involvement in deadly Rizal Day bombings that killed 22 people across Metro Manila in 2000 and was to have been arraigned last Monday, but the proceeding was reset for Aug. 20.

Al-Ghozi was convicted last year and later confessed to using part of a huge explosives cache in the bombings.

He told authorities he planned to ship the rest to Singapore as part of a Jemaah Islamiyah plot to blow up Western embassies there.

Early Tuesday, about 100 police raided a slum community in Manila’s Tondo district after a tip that the two suspected Abu Sayyaf escapees were seen there, but found nothing. A man and a woman were brought in for questioning.

Police were also searching a Muslim community in the capital. A number of southern provinces were being checked.

Police officials said they suspect Al-Ghozi is still in the country. — With AP, AFP


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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