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Jakarta Post

Terrorists flee blazing prison

  • Apriadi Gunawan and Yuliasri Perdani

    The Jakarta Post

Medan/Jakarta   /   Fri, July 12, 2013   /  11:12 am
Terrorists flee blazing prison Lurking danger: A police officer watches the burning maximum security Tanjung Gusta Penitentiary in Medan, North Sumatra, on Thursday. Hundreds of convicts, including terrorists, escaped following a riot that was triggered by a blackout and a water stoppage. (Antara/Irsan Mulyadi) (Antara/Irsan Mulyadi)

Lurking danger: A police officer watches the burning maximum security Tanjung Gusta Penitentiary in Medan, North Sumatra, on Thursday. Hundreds of convicts, including terrorists, escaped following a riot that was triggered by a blackout and a water stoppage. (Antara/Irsan Mulyadi)

Hundreds of inmates, possibly including a number of terrorists, escaped from the maximum security Tanjung Gusta Penitentiary in Medan, North Sumatra, on Thursday evening after setting the prison ablaze.

There are conflicting reports on the number of escaped inmates, ranging from 150 to 200.

The convicts had staged a rally inside the prison earlier on Thursday protesting electricity and tap water stoppages. The inmates escaped from the prison, which holds some 2,500 detainees, after fire engulfed the prison.

National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said there had been no electricity since 5 a.m., which had affected the water supply. He said the furious inmates had started to revolt at 5:30 p.m., and fled through the main gate.

'€œAbout 200 inmates managed to escape, including possibly 15 terrorist convicts,'€ he said via an SMS.

As of 11 p.m. on Thursday, North Sumatra Police chief Insp. Gen. Syarief Gunawan said that personnel from the police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) managed to arrest 42 inmates, one was confirmed to be a terrorist.

'€œWe are also guarding the border areas to prevent them from leaving this city,'€ he said.

National Police chief spokesman Insp. Gen. Ronny F. Sompie said police officers from the North Sumatra Police, the Medan City Police as well as nearby police precincts had been deployed to secure the prison.

'€œWe are focusing on capturing the inmates. The North Sumatra Police'€™s Mobile Brigade [Brimob] and the Sabhara rapid response, crime and intelligence units joined the operation,'€ he said over the phone.

When asked whether the counterterrorism unit Densus 88 would also be deployed, Ronny said Brimob, Gegana bomb disposal squad and detectives directly under the North Sumatra Police had already been deployed.

Raidir Sigalingging, spokesman from state electricity company PT PLN North Sumatra region admitted that the prison had experienced a blackout since 9 a.m., and that it was due to a blown 400-kV transformer.

He said PLN technicians did not fix the problem immediately because they had to source a replacement first.

'€œWe will work on the problem well into the night,'€ Raidir told tribunnews.com.

Akbar Hadi Prabowo, spokesman for the penitentiary directorate general at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry, said, as quoted by Antara news agency, the riot started after the inmates demanded electricity.

'€œThe prison had coordinated with PT PLN but the prolonged electricity outage incited the riot.'€

Demands by some of the inmates provoked other inmates and the situation escalated into a riot.

Akbar said there were 15 guards inside the prison when the warden contacted Brimob.

'€œThe inmates burned a number of the prison'€™s offices,'€ he said.

Inmates then ran amok and started fires across the whole prison.

Hundreds of police officers stationed in the surrounding area managed to catch six of the escaped inmates. It is believed that most of the inmates fled to farm lands in Hamparan Perak in Deli Serdang regency and Medan city.

Justice and Human Rights Deputy Minister Denny Indrayana said the prison was overcapacity by 247 percent.

'€œThe prison'€™s capacity is only 1,054 but there were 2,594 inmates and 6 detainees,'€ he said in a statement.

It is believed that Tanjung Gusta holds 22 terrorism convicts, believed to be accomplices of Toni Togar.

Toni, currently in custody at Nusakambangan Prison island, is an influential terrorist who is serving a 20-year sentence for a series of church bombings in Pekanbaru and Medan in 2000.

The police also suspect Toni masterminded a number of terror acts while behind bars, including the 2003 CIMB Niaga bank heist that left a police officer dead.

As of Thursday night, Medan fire fighters were still struggling to extinguish the fire as fire trucks were unable to enter the prison compound.

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