Saturday, July 26, 2003

The Getaway

The July 14 escape of bomber Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi and two Abu Sayyaf terrorists from a Manila jail was far too easy. There was no question of the importance of al-Ghozi. A militant operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al Ghozi was serving a 17-year jail term for killing 22 in a December 2000 bombing of a rail coach in Manila. His two companions, Abdul Mukhim Edris and Omar Opik Lasal, were members of a terrorist group that openly boasted of financial ties to Saddam Hussein. Remarkably, an international terrorist could simply walk out of his jail, unnoticed, leaving the cell gate locked behind him. His absence was not noticed until the next morning.

Initially, investigators assumed that the prisoners had a set of keys, so that they could (politely?) lock the gate behind them. Possession of keys proved pointless, however, when it was discovered the locked gate could be lifted off of its hinges and opened easily.

As more details emerged from the Philippines, the escape looked to be more the result of conspiracy than incompetence. Abu Ali, ex-prisoner and member of Abu Sayyaf turned state witness, was hired as a "utility boy” at the jail and granted access to all of the cells. He confessed to telling al-Ghozi about the defective gate.

Guards were first said to be asleep, drunk, or out getting snacks. One of the guards who had said he was sleeping, however, has since changed his story. Ronald Palmeras now claims he was called away from his post at midnight by his supervisor. A sinister footnote: though Palmeras has asked to go into the witness protection program, his request has been denied on the absurd grounds that police officers do not need protection.

Supt. Reuben Galban, dismissed chief of the Intelligence Group’s Foreign Intelligence Liaison Office, admitted to having returned to Camp Crame around the time of the jailbreak, but denies any involvement. It was Galban, however, who had moved al-Ghozi out of a higher-security cell.

Rumors that Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director-General Hermogenes Ebdane was meeting in Mindanao with people handling al-Ghozi, or that Ebdane already had al-Ghozi in custody were also vehemently denied.

Frustration with widespread corruption is affecting military morale in the war on terror. Ten junior officers attempted a coup today against the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Storming a shopping center, they planted explosives and released a video to telelevision stations in which they

accused the Philippine military of selling ammunition to rebel groups, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Abu Sayyaf and the communist New People's Army. "The bullets killing our comrades came from the Armed Forces of the Philippines," a voice on the tape said. "The real terrorists are in our government."
Rogue Officers Storm Commercial Center in Manila

The coup was eventually foiled , though only two of the junior officers have been captured so far.

In the midst of all this unrest, plans are said to going forward still for the visit of President Bush to the Philippines in October.

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|| headland, 10:55 PM

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