Chase is on to stop people smuggling suspect

By Tom Hyland in Jakarta
Sydney Morning Herald
January 2 2003

The Federal Government's vow to do all that it takes to bring alleged people smuggler Abu Quassey to justice is about to be tested after the man accused of sending 353 people to their deaths was released from a Jakarta prison yesterday.

"I'm not afraid of anything," Quassey said when asked if he feared pursuit by Australia, as he was being taken to an immigration detention centre before his deportation from Indonesia.

Asked about the sinking of the illegal entry vessel SIEV-X off Indonesia in October 2001, which cost the lives of the 353 asylum seekers, he said: "I have no idea. I didn't do that. I will only talk in a court."

But the Egyptian national 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 on which Indonesia could hold him because it has not passed laws against 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.

Indonesian officials would not say how soon Quassey would be deported, but indicated it could be within days, once Egyptian embassy officials gave him a passport and airline ticket.

Egyptian officials could not be contacted yesterday, but an informed source told the Herald that Quassey was booked on a flight from Bangkok to Cairo early on Sunday. He was likely to fly from Jakarta on Saturday.

Australian officials have indicated their best chance of arresting Quassey on international warrants is en route to Egypt.

He cannot be extradited from Indonesia because of its lack of people smuggling laws and Australia has no extradition treaty with Egypt. However, it does with Thailand, which has already co-operated with Australia in extraditing a suspected people smuggler just before Christmas.

Quassey, also known as Mootaz Muhammad Hasan, is wanted on four Australian warrants, covering 76 people smuggling offences. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years' jail.

The most serious charge relates to SIEV-X, an Indonesian boat which sank off the western tip of Java on October 19, 2001, while overcrowded with 397 people seeking asylum in Australia - most of them Afghan and Iraqi women and children.

About 120 people survived the sinking, but only 44 were alive when an Indonesian fishing boat arrived on the scene 20 hours later.

In an interview with Australian television last August, Quassey said it was God's will his clients died. But speaking to reporters in Jakarta yesterday, he denied any involvement.

Asked if he feared arrest by Australian authorities, he said; "No, no, no. I'm not afraid of anything."

The Justice Minister, Chris Ellison, said this week Australia would relentlessly pursue Quassey. Australia had issued a "red alert" through Interpol to more than 170 countries to track his 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."

"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."


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