(dpa) - The escape of an accused Muslim terrorist is a blow to Singapore's international reputation and the government is still not sure how Mas Selamat Kastari got away, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in published remarks on Monday.
With the manhunt in its 13th day, The Straits Times quoted Lee as saying, "The escape is undoubtedly a setback and it should never have happened."
In his first comment since Mas Selamat, 47, fled from the Internal Security Department's Detention Centre, Lee cited "the danger of complacency, of thinking that everything is all right."
"How did it happen? We're not absolutely sure yet," Lee said.
Mas Selamat, the alleged leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah's (JI's) Singapore branch, escaped after being given permission to go to the toilet prior to a family visit on Febraury 27.
He was accused by the Ministry of Home Affairs of plotting six years ago to hijack a plane and crash it into Changi Airport in addition to involvement in plans to attack the US Embassy, the American Club and Singapore government buildings.
No details have been revealed as to how he broke out except to say there was a security lapse.
Lee said he did not believe the incident will cause people to think Singapore has gone soft on security. "It's not done our reputation good."
The security forces must learn from the mistake and make sure not to repeat it as terrorism is a "continuing problem," Lee said.
Mas Selamat had been held at the centre under a provision allowing indefinite incarceration without trial.
Thousands of police, Gurkhas and immigration officers have been scouring Singapore. Interpol has issued an urgent global security alert.
The prime minister's father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, said last Friday that the city-state is in danger of an attack if Mas Selamat gets into Indonesia where he "has his old networks."
"Then we have to watch out for a return hit sometime," Lee said.
Indonesia has no extradition treaty with Singapore, but has beefed up border patrols and set up roadblocks.
The Java-born Mas Selamat fled Singapore in December 2001 and was subsequently arrested twice in Indonesia for violating the country's immigration laws. He was sent back to Singapore in 2006.
The JI has been blamed for a series of bombings in South-East Asia including the 2002 attack that killed 202 people on Indonesia's island of Bali.