Regional officials worry over the return of escaped terror suspect

Updated On: Nov 04, 2005

Jakarta – A terrorist with a deadly track record in Southeast Asia is on the loose again – after escaping from a US-run detention facility in BagramAfghanistan, in July. Some regional security officials are livid that the US did not bother to inform them of Omar Al-Farouq's escape until this week, given his potential to create trouble in the region. 

     Al-Farooq, who was born in Kuwait to Iraq parents, was once one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants in Southeast Asia. He had been involved in a number of terror plots, including the bombing of malls and political assassinations before his arrest in 2002 by Indonesian authorities. He was later handed over to the USauthorities. 
     It was not clear how Al-Farouq and three other suspected Arab terrorists broke free from the heavily-fortified detention facility in Bagram - though they reportedly claimed in a video broadcast earlier this month that they picked the lock of their cell.  
     Several razor-wire fences surround the Bagram base and the areas outside the perimeter are full of landmines. Military teams patrol constantly and the main entrance is a series of heavily guarded checkpoints.
     Indonesian and Thai intelligence officials said on Nov 2 that Washington had not informed them of Al-Farouq's escape - even though he had been planning terrorist strikes in the region, including their own countries, reported Associated Press.  
     "We know nothing about it," said Maj-Gen Ansyaad Mbai, Indonesia's anti-terror chief. "If it's true, the US government ... should have informed us. This man is dangerous and his escape increases the threat of terrorism in Indonesia." 
     "We need to coordinate security here as soon as possible to anticipate his return," he added. 
     Indonesia has much reason to be worried about Al-Farouq’s possible return. His wife and two children still live in a modest home about an hour's drive fromJakarta.
      Maj-Gen Mbai warned that Al-Farouq's escape "could energise a new generation of terrorists in Southeast Asia and the world". 
      An unidentified Philippine security official told the Associated Press: "His support groups are still in the region and that could provide an incentive for him to return. He's dangerous."
     But at least one security analyst believes that Al-Farouq may not return to Southeast Asia. "He's Iraqi after all. If he's not hiding out in Pakistan or Afghanistan, he's probably headed to Iraq to join the fight there," said Mr Ken Conboy, who recently published a book on Jemaah Islamiah.

*Militant potential threat to security in Southeast Asia, officials say (The Straits Times, Nov 3)