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Monday May 11, 2009

Fugitive militant finds rustic retreat away from prying eyes

JOHOR BARU: Fugitive militant Mas Selamat Kastari (pic) found the perfect spot to hide - a secluded village in Johor unmarked on any map, not even Google Earth.

He found a traditional kampung house on stilts in Kampung Tawakal, a tiny village with a population of less than 100.

Located about 10km away from the North-South Expressway near the Kempas exit, it is almost impossible to locate for those not familiar with the area.

All around are oil palm trees and there are no signboards pointing to the village as one drives along the main road of Jalan Kampung Maju Jaya.

About 5km away sits the exclusive Starhill Golf and Country Club.

Tawakal villagers are still shocked that a fugitive, described as dangerous by the authorities, had been living in their midst.

According to some of them, Mas Selamat rarely left his house and when he did venture out, it was usually after dark. He would be dressed in a long white robe and white turban.

At times, he was seen gardening in the sprawling compound using a hoe.

“Sometimes we would call out Assalamualaikum (peace be upon you) to him, and he would reply. But nothing more,” said a 10-year old girl who declined to be named.

“He never spoke to anyone and kept to himself. And he never prayed at the local surau,’’ said Mohd Saat Marjo, 56, a villager who lived opposite the fugitive’s home.

Safe haven: The house in Kampung Tawakal in Skudai, Johor, where Mas Selamat led a secluded life for the past few months until his sudden arrest last month. — MEERA VIJAYAN / The Star

Showed a picture of Mas Selamat published in The Star, he exclaimed: “Yes, yes, he’s the man who lived here!”

Villagers relived the moment one early April morning when police stormed the house he was living in and arrested the fugitive.

Mohd Saat recalled: “It was about 6am. About 30 armed policemen surrounded the kampung house and ordered Mas Selamat to come out.

“When he refused, they broke through two doors and rushed in,’’ he said, adding that it was like a scene out of the police TV serial, Gerak Khas.

Mohd Saat said villagers then saw Mas Selamat being led out with his face covered in a dark blue checked cloth before he was swiftly bundled into a police vehicle and taken away.

He said police were also seen combing the area with bomb detectors to ensure that the house was free of explosives.

A peek into the house Mas Selamat was living in showed that things were neat and tidy - except for an aquarium with dead fish floating in murky water. A punching bag hung in the living area.

The house is surrounded by mangosteen, guava, coconut and banana trees.

According to Mohd Saat, Mas Selamat occupied the basement of the house which had been refurbished.

He was believed to be renting the house from a man called Johar, who lived in the upper portion of the house with his wife and two young children.

Villagers said even Johar and his family were reclusive and did not get involved in village activities.

“They also never received any visitors,’’ said Mohd Saat.

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