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Homeland Security

SLUG: 2-305415 Philippines / J-I Escape









INTRO: An intensive manhunt is under way in the Philippines for a top terror suspect and two associates who made a stunning escape from jail. But just how the men made it out of one of the most heavily guarded facilities in the country is not clear. V-O-A correspondent Gary Thomas reports from our Southeast Asia Bureau in Bangkok.

TEXT: Philippine authorities say a leading Islamic militant and two associates appear to have had inside help in their escape.

Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, who is tied to several bomb attacks in the Philippines, escaped Monday. Al-Ghozi is believed to be a key operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terror group. Two suspected Filipino Muslim extremists escaped along with him.

The three slipped out of Camp Crame, the heavily guarded national police headquarters, before dawn. Interior and Local Governments Secretary Joey Lina told V-O-A it appears to have been what he termed an "inside job." He noted that there was no sign of forced entry or exit.

/// LINA ACT ///

In all likelihood there was a key that was used to open the padlock. And then after the prisoners left the cell, the padlock was again closed.

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Lina says it is likely the guards were bribed.

/// LINA ACT ///

There is no hard evidence as of yet, but it can be deduced that in all possibility money changed hands.

/// END ACT ///

Al-Ghozi was serving a sentence for possessing explosives and was due to be arraigned next week for a set of bombings in Manila three years ago that killed 22 people. He confessed to being involved in those bombings and led police to a cache of explosives that officials say was to have been used against embassies and other Western targets in Singapore.

His escape is an embarrassment to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was meeting in Manila with Australian Prime Minister John Howard to discuss counter-terrorism on the day of the jailbreak.

Officials say Ms. Arroyo was furious. Ignacio Bunye is her spokesman.

/// BUNYE ACT ///

The president has ordered that the custodians of Al-Ghozi and the other escapees be sacked immediately without prejudice to the filing of criminal and administrative charges for gross negligence, dereliction of duty, and infidelity in the custody of the detainees.

/// END ACT ///

Authorities have offered rewards for information about Al-Ghozi and his fellow escapees. (signed)


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