Escaped Terrorist Captured En Route to Monkhood

Som Ek, a convicted terrorist who escaped from prison guards while being treated at a hospital earlier this month, is back in custody after police caught him at a Siem Reap pagoda attempting to join the monkhood, officials said on Wednesday.

“We arrested him while he was going to a pagoda this morning where he wanted to become a monk,” said Pech Yon, the chief of PJ Prison, where Mr. Ek had been serving a 40-year sentence.

Som Ek attends a hearing at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh in February 2012. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Som Ek attends a hearing at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh in February 2012. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Ek has been on the run since evading two prison guards—both since suspended—while undergoing treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh on the night of October 8.

The former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) soldier is serving a lengthy sentence for his alleged involvement in a minor explosion at the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument in 2007 and bombing attempts on the offices of the Defense Ministry and TV3 studio in 2009.

Mr. Yon said authorities had acted on a tipoff on Wednesday morning in their arrest of Mr. Ek, also known as “Ti To,” at a pagoda on Kulen mountain in Siem Reap province’s Svay Leu district, but declined to give further details.

Siem Reap provincial police chief Sort Nady confirmed the arrest.

“The prisoner will be sent to the Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters for questioning and will be sent to Prey Sar prison by late evening,” he said, referring further questions to his deputy chief, who could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Ek’s escape has been shrouded in mystery. It apparently began on October 6, when he fainted in his prison bathroom and was rushed to the hospital.

Several nights later, Mr. Ek’s family visited his room on the neurology ward and distributed rice, cake and other food. Guards and other occupants of the room said the food and a pipe Mr. Ek smoked had been laced with chemicals that put them to sleep while the prisoner slipped out of cuffs around his ankles and into the Phnom Penh night.

But on Tuesday, authorities said they had tested the food and found no traces of suspicious chemicals, and were looking into alternative theories for the escape.

They also said Mr. Ek’s name had been added to Interpol’s list of most wanted criminals.

According to Sam Serey, an activist living in Denmark who has known Mr. Ek since the 1980s, Mr. Ek was a soldier in the stridently anti-communist Khmer People’s National Liberation Front in the 1980s before eventually joining RCAF in the 1990s.

Mr. Serey said that Mr. Ek quit the army in 2003 and joined what they claim was a peaceful movement to distribute anti-CPP and anti-Vietnamese literature.

The government, however, claimed in Mr. Ek’s trials that he was a member of an obscure “Tiger’s Head” terrorist movement, and was also linked to the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, which launched a botched attack in 2000 on government buildings in Phnom Penh.

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