Friday, 21 March 2008

Manhunt or Womanhunt

Crime stories from Japan that make world news are exceptional and usually involve dead foreigners. One such tragedy is Lindsay Hawker, an English teacher found dead & buried in sand in a bathtub on a guy's balcony. The prime suspect has been on the run for a year now and in an attempt to liven up the search, the police have issued Photoshopped photos including him dressed as a woman.

I haven't mentioned Singapore's on-going manhunt as it's a straight-forward problem: the security forces are looking for an escaped, suspected terrorist, Mas Selamat. In a nutshell, he was in a (very!) secure facility, was being taken to a room for a family visit and asked to go to the toilet. He hasn't been seen since. They have good, contemporary photographs, he's short and he limps.

The level of official embarrassment is hard to quantify. Acute certainly doesn't cover it. MM Lee described the security forces as "complacent"; a very well chosen word. The official coverage has focused on finding him but at some point, especially if they don't re-capture him, there will have it be a reckoning.

In the case of Tatsuya Ichihashi, our bath tub suspect, a reasonable guess would be he's dead. Suicide. He fled with no shoes, little money and as a strange loner, would find it very hard to hide without help. The search for Mas Selamat has been to comb scrub land and step up security around ports, checkpoints and coastal areas. His picture is posted everywhere: MRTs, bus shelters, stations, buildings. A photo MMS was sent to most mobile phones in the country (I received it but don't have MMS capability) and by e-mail to all SingNet subscribers.

Smart money is that he has friends, and has already fled to Malaysia or Indonesia, or is in a safe house somewhere. Given that "escape dressed as woman" gets over 900,000 hits on Google, maybe the Singaporean police should take a tip from the Japanese and get Photoshopping?