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Freedom for alleged smuggler JAKARTA - The Federal Government's vow to bring alleged people smuggler Abu Quassey to justice is about to be tested after the man accused of sending more than 350 people to their deaths in a boat that sank off Java, was released from a Jakarta prison yesterday.
"I'm not afraid of anything," Abu Quassey said when asked if he feared pursuit by Australia after he was released from prison and taken to an immigration detention centre pending deportation from Indonesia. But Abu Quassey appeared pensive and depressed when he arrived at the centre after serving six months in Jakarta's Cipinang prison for visa violations - the only charge Indonesia could hold him on as it has yet to pass laws covering people smuggling.
He complained he had not slept for two days and held his head in his hands as he sat in an Immigration Department van taking him to the centre. His only possession appeared to be a small red shopping bag with a Coca-Cola logo. Indonesian officials would not say how soon Abu Quassey, an Egyptian national, would be deported. But they indicated it could be within days, once Egyptian embassy officials gave him a passport and air ticket.
Egyptian officials could not be contacted yesterday, but an informed source said that Abu Quassey was booked on a flight from the Thai capital, Bangkok, to Cairo early next Sunday morning. He was likely to fly to Bangkok from Jakarta on Saturday. Australian officials have indicated their best chance of arresting Abu Quassey on international warrants is en route to his home country.
He can't be extradited from Indonesia because it lacks people smuggling laws and Australia has no extradition treaty with Egypt. But it does have a treaty with Thailand, which cooperated with Australia in extraditing a suspected people smuggler before Christmas. Abu Quassey, also known as Mootaz Muhammad Hasan, is wanted on four Australian warrants, covering 76 people-smuggling offences. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years' jail.
The most serious charge relates to the SIEV-X, an Indonesian boat that sank off the western tip of Java on October 19, 2001, while overcrowded with 397 people seeking asylum in Australia. Most were Afghan and Iraqi women and children. About 120 people survived the sinking, but only 44 were alive when an Indonesian fishing boat arrived 20 hours later.
Some survivors later alleged they had been forced at gunpoint on to the boat by Indonesian police, who appeared to be working with Abu Quassey. Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison said this week that Australia would relentlessly pursue Abu Quassey. Australia had issued a red alert through Interpol to more than 170 countries to track Abu Quassey's movements once he was released, Senator Ellison said.
"Certainly if he left Indonesia, it would open up a different scenario for us and we have a number of options in mind but I am not going to flag those," he said. "I am not going to signal our shots to Abu Quassey or his colleagues. We will not relent in the pursuit of Abu Quassey. We will never give up."
Abu Quassey's impending release had prompted claims that the Federal Government failed to press Indonesia to hand over Abu Quassey because of what he might reveal about Australia's alleged role in the SIEV-X tragedy. Australian Democrat and former diplomat Tony Kevin says Australia's failure to pursue the case effectively contrasts with the close cooperation with Jakarta after the Bali bombings. Mr Kevin has questioned why Abu Quassey was arrested but not charged with murder over the SIEV-X disaster.
He has suggested that the sinking may be linked to the involvement of the Australian Federal Police with Indonesian authorities in disrupting boat people movements - claims the AFP has strongly rejected. Last month, the opposition, Democrats and minority parties in the Senate called for a judicial inquiry into the government's people-smuggling disruption program.
In an interview with Australian television last August, Abu Quassey said it was God's will the asylum seekers died. But speaking to reporters in Jakarta yesterday, he denied any involvement. Asked about the sinking, he said: "I have no idea. I didn't do that. I will only talk in a court." Asked if he feared arrest by Australian authorities, he said; "Non, no, no. I'm not afraid of anything."

Posted in Drugs @ 01 January 2003 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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