Authorities are still searching for Som Ek and his family after the convicted terrorist and former soldier escaped a hospital room by allegedly dosing prison guards with sleeping pills during a visit by relatives on Saturday.
“Experts are searching for his wife and relatives who visited him at the hospital for questioning,” said Pech Yon, chief of Phnom Penh’s PJ Prison.
Mr. Ek, also known as “Ti To,” was sentenced to over 40 years in prison for his alleged involvement in two separate bombing cases: a 2007 bombing at the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument and 2009 bombing attempts on the offices of the Defense Ministry and TV3 studio in Phnom Penh.
On Thursday, 51-year-old Mr. Ek was rushed to Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh after prison authorities said he fainted in the bathroom. A family who briefly shared the room with Mr. Ek said he escaped on Saturday night after five visiting relatives served food and blew pipe smoke that put two guards and the other occupants to sleep.
Mr. Yon said on Tuesday that the guards could face discipline for eating the food.
“The rules do not allow prison officials to eat food provided by family of prisoners,” he said. Mr. Ek’s escape “might be caused by their neglect, so we are waiting to hear from experts after they are questioned.”
Authorities say that Mr. Ek and three other men apprehended for the Defense Ministry bombings in 2009 belonged to a previously unknown terrorist group called the “Tiger Head” movement. Mr. Ek has repeatedly denied that the group exists and claimed it was invented by the government as a pretext for harassing dissidents.
Sam Serey, an activist living in Denmark who has known Mr. Ek since the 1980s, said the former soldier helped him escape to Thailand a day before Mr. Ek’s arrest in 2009.
“If I did not escape, I would also be in prison,” Mr. Serey said on Tuesday, though he added that he had no knowledge of Mr. Ek’s whereabouts.
Mr. Serey said he met Mr. Ek in the 1980s, when his father fought with Mr. Ek against the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh as members of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF).
When the KPNLF dissolved shortly after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991, Mr. Ek joined the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), according to Mr. Serey, eventually becoming a senior official in the paratrooper unit.
Mr. Ek quit the RCAF after returning from military training in the U.S. in about 2003 because “he saw that there were human rights violations,” Mr. Serey said.
After his time in the RCAF, Mr. Ek joined a loosely affiliated network of activists whom Mr. Serey said peacefully wrote and distributed literature sharply critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime, drawing the ire of the premier.
Mr. Serey is now head of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), a group that has continued to publish anti-government material and been branded terrorists.