Malaysian manhunt on as escape drama spices up

KUALA LUMPUR: Seven Malaysians who escaped police custody this week did so by temporarily blinding a guard with chilli powder hidden in one of the escapee's underpants, police and press reports said Wednesday.

The escape Monday of the seven men -- whom police have called "dangerous criminals" -- has prompted a large-scale manhunt in the northern Malaysian state of Penang.

But the seven escapees remained at large after their daring break-out from a police van as they were being transported to a local court.

The detainees had staged a fight in the vehicle, prompting its driver to pull over, police said.

When the police opened the rear door to investigate, "they threw chilli powder on a policeman", Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, a local police official, told AFP, as other detainees attacked and injured his fellow guards.

Abdul Rahman declined to elaborate on the use of the spices, but press reports have said one of the men had concealed the chilli powder in his underwear.

Chilli powder is ubiquitous in Malaysia, which is known for its spicy cuisine.

The seven fugitives then sped off in the police van, which was later found abandoned in a nearby village, police have said.

Some 250 police officers aided by tracker dogs and a police helicopter were scouring the area near where the van was discarded, said Abdul Rahim Hanafi, Penang's state police chief.

"The escapees are dangerous criminals who have been charged with serious offences, including murder, gang robbery and causing grievous hurt," he was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper.

Police were investigating how the detainees had obtained the chilli powder.

The Star quoted an unnamed source saying the powder could have been from the spicy seasoning sachets found in instant noodle packets that are sometimes provided to detainees by family members during visits.

- AFP/al

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