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Jailbreak shakes public confidence in Singapore

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Singapore's robust security state may make it one of the world's worst places to be a terrorist, but some cracks are beginning to show in the country's tough image. Mas Selamat Kastari, the head of the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, is still at large after escaping from a Singaporean detention center in February.

As FP Managing Editor William Dobson reports in the upcoming issue of Newsweekthe state's failure to recapture Kastari combined and the keystone kops nature of his escape (He climbed out a bathroom window and cushioned his fall with rolls of toilet paper.) are shaking the public's faith in their regime's competence:

As much as the government is trying to spin the prison break as a cautionary tale, the episode is revealing shortcomings in Singapore's nanny state. [...] Singapore does an excellent job mobilizing its resources and directing them at recognized problems. But there are few external or independent checks on the system—and this lack of scrutiny, combined with the government's generally successful record, has produced serious blind spots. Past circumstances have made it "easy to become smug," says the Western diplomat. But this smugness has now proved dangerous.

As Dobson points out, Singapore's citizens place enormous faith in their normally ultracompetent government, allowing the state to justify its sometimes harsh authoritarianism. Officials are now scrambling to restore that faith.

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