Mas Selamat hid butter, used mineral water bottles in escape: Malaysia police

Mas Selamat Kastari (centre) leaving the Tanjung Pinang police station under heavy guard in 2003.
Mas Selamat Kastari (centre) leaving the Tanjung Pinang police station under heavy guard in 2003. PHOTO: ST FILE

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - He climbed through a ventilation shaft in a toilet at a prison in Singapore, hid under an expressway and swam across the Tebrau Strait from Woodlands to Stulang Laut in Johor.

It seemed that notorious Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) bomb maker Mas Selamat Kestari, who was a Singapore's Internal Security Act (ISA) detainee, hatched the perfect "prison break" in February 2008.

But it was not to be, since not long after crossing the Tebrau Straits, Malaysia's Counter Terrorism Division (E8) was hot on his heels.

"It was one of the most interesting arrests we made of a JI militant.

"He escaped from a detention centre in Singapore on Feb 27, 2008 but was later caught in Johor Baru on April 1, 2009. We detained three former JI members - Matin Anon Rahmat, Johar Hassan and Nurrohman - and their interrogation led us to a house in Johor Baru, where we discovered Mas Selamat hiding," Deputy Commissioner Ayob Khan said in an interview to mark the 210th Police Day celebrations, on Saturday (March 25).

The Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division head said during interrogation, Mas Selamat revealed that he started preparing for his escape a month ahead by exercising and trying to solicit information on roads outside the Singaporean prison from his wife during family visits.

"He started to stock up extra small packages of butter to be used as food and obtained extra clothing from his wife.

"On Feb 27, 2008, he escaped through the camp's toilet ventilation window and scrambled through the perimeter fence," he said.

Mas Selamat claimed that he hid under an overhead bridge along the Pan Island Expressway for five days before making his way towards Woodlands using a monsoon drain under cover of darkness.

He then swam across the Tebrau Straits to Stulang Laut in Johor Baru on the night of March 2, 2008.

"He kept himself afloat with the aid of empty mineral water bottles and landed at Stulang Laut at about 5.30am on March 3, 2008," revealed Datuk Ayob.

"After day break, he walked about 10km towards Pelangi Plaza before boarding a bus to the house of Matin in Ulu Tiram.

"He later moved to another hideout at Kampung Tawakal, Skudai, belonging to Johar.

"Mas Selamat stayed there for about a year before we finally caught up with him," he said.

The trio of Mas Selamat, Matin and Johar had several terror plots in mind, including kidnapping Singaporean Chinese in Johor as hostages in return for the release of all JI detainees in Singapore.

"If their request was not met, all the hostages were to be 'slaughtered' and video-taped for distribution to the international community," said Mr Ayob.

Counter terrorism intensified its operations against JI from 2001 until 2007.

"We were the first agency along with Singaporean authorities to uncover the JI network in South-East Asia," he said.

Mas Selamat still remains one of the most high profile arrests for the division, which has been around for almost 30 years but started out only as a small sub-section within Special Branch in 1990.

"In the beginning, the focus of the small sub-section of the department was more towards foreign terrorists threats who operated in Malaysia.

"I become the unit's leader when I was transferred to Special Branch in 1993.

"The unit continued to expand especially after the attack on the World Trade Centre on Sept 11, 2001 until it became the E8 Division it is today," added Mr Ayob.