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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tiger Head mastermind Som Ek recaptured in Siem Reap after jail break

Som Ek, accused of masterminding a failed bomb plot, is escorted into Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2014.
Som Ek, accused of masterminding a failed bomb plot, is escorted into Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2014. Hong Menea

Tiger Head mastermind Som Ek recaptured in Siem Reap after jail break

Som Ek, leader of the antigovernment Tiger Head Movement and convicted mastermind of a plot in 2009 to bomb the Ministry of Defence, was rearrested yesterday morning after escaping from custody earlier this month having served less than eight years of prison sentences spanning decades.

Ek, who had been jailed at Phnom Penh’s PJ prison but fled after his family allegedly drugged the guards watching over him while he was in hospital, was arrested in Siem Reap’s Svay Leu district, said Khnang Phnom commune police chief Long Ngeak.

Ngeak said that provincial police had informed local authorities Ek was believed to be in the area and arrested him shortly thereafter as he attempted to go into hiding on Kulen mountain.

“He just arrived at the mountain this morning, but after receiving information from the provincial authorities, the local authorities did not notice him,” Ngeak said. “He was wearing his cap lying on the hammock, and he had turned his cap to cover him.”

The officer did not say how the provincial police knew Ek was in the area but that when six of them arrived at about 10am, they were the ones to finally spot him in the hammock. His odd behaviour tipped them off, he said.

Less than 10 minutes later, provincial police had confirmed Ek’s identity after sitting down with him, the officer said, and took him back into custody – but not before he tried to run away again.

“Before his arrest, he seemed to know about the situation and intended to run,” Ngeak said. “As the provincial police were looking at his photograph and asking him to sit down to question him, he started to move, but the police had handcuffed him.”

“During questioning, the police asked him whether he knew about the picture, but he shook his head without even looking at the picture.”

An officer with the Siem Reap provincial police who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak with the media said Ek had been sent to the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh.

Ek had been serving 28 years in prison for training terrorists and planting one bomb at the Defence Ministry and two at the state-run TV3 in 2009, as well as another 18-year term for a 2007 plot to bomb the Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship Monument.

The convict escaped from the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital at about 10pm on October 8 after his family members fed food allegedly laced with drugs to two prison guards watching over him while he was being treated for fainting, according to prisons officials.

Nouth Savna, spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, said that the food that the guards consumed was being tested by health officials but that no conclusions had yet been made about whether it was really laced with drugs.

Savna also said Ek would face trial for escaping prison and that police were still investigating who had helped him escape from the hospital – including whether his family or the guards themselves were involved.

“He will face another trial for escaping,” he said, adding it would extend his already lengthy prison time. “He has to serve a few more years because he has committed this crime.”

“We are in the process of making judgments about how many people are involved with this escape, and how the top levels will take action against people who are involved,” the official said. “They could be accused of conspiracy to help to release a prisoner.”

Be Tea Leng, director of the operations unit at the general department of prisons, said he hoped the prisons system could avoid such embarrassing escapes happening again.

“We will strengthen security in order to prevent this case from happening again,” he said.

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