MANILA, 15 July 2003 — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have launched a nationwide manhunt after a captured Indonesian member of the Jemaah Islamiyah and two other Filipino terrorists escaped from a police prison facility in Manila, officials said yesterday.
“We will help the police track down the terrorists. We have alerted our forces about Fathur Rahman Al-Ghozi and the escape of the two Abu Sayyaf terrorists,” AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero told Arab News.
Ports and airports have also been put on high alert for Al-Ghozi, a self-confessed member of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional network of radicals which has been linked to Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.
He escaped with two Filipino prisoners who are also believed to be members of a radical Islamic group, the Abu Sayyaf. The trio slipped out before dawn from a special detention center at the national police headquarters, a heavily guarded complex in Manila. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sacked the three guards assigned to watch Al-Ghozi’s cell and police officials said there were no signs of a forced breakout, suggesting connivance.
“This is an incident that is very unfortunate,” presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye told reporters. “The president intends to get to the bottom of this and see to it that those responsible are appropriately sanctioned. “
The slim, bearded Al-Ghozi, who has said he was on a mission to wage holy war in Southeast Asia, was serving the second year of a 17-year jail term for illegal possession of explosives and falsifying travel papers. His escape occurred a week after he was also charged with murder for the deaths of 12 people in the bombing of a Manila commuter train in December 2000 — one of a series of near-simultaneous explosions in the capital on that day.
“The escape happened at approximately three o’clock this morning,” Bunye said.