Nearly 160 Inmates Escape in Massive Philippine Jail Break

© Policemen patrol outside the walls of the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan city, Cotabato P... IMAGE: Philippine prison break
KIDAPAWAN, Philippines — Nearly 160 inmates escaped after suspected Muslim rebels attacked a jail in the southern Philippines before dawn Wednesday, and at least six people were shot dead as pursuing government forces traded fire with gunmen, officials said.

Acting Provincial Jail Warden Supt. Peter John Bongngat Jr. said a guard was killed and an inmate was wounded in an initial gunbattle when dozens of gunmen stormed the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan in one of the country's largest jailbreaks in recent years. Kidapawan city in Cotabato Province is about 580 miles southeast of the capital Manila.

Bongngat and Kidapawan police chief Supt. Leo Ajero said gunfire continued for hours after the attack as army troops and police, some in armored tanks, hunted through the surrounding forests for the 158 escaped inmates and the gunmen who freed them.

Bongat said the heavily armed attackers were suspected to include members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and guerrillas who broke away from the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has signed a peace deal with the government.

Of the six killed in the shootout, at least five were escapees, while another six were recaptured, officials said.

The jail held more than 1,500 inmates, including Bangsamoro members facing murder charges for a series of bombings in the province, officials said. It was the third attack in the provincial jail facility since 2007.


Philippines News: Largest Jailbreak In History As Muslim Rebels Release 150 Prisoners, Manhunt Underway


Militants reportedly linked to Islamist rebel groups in the Philippines stormed the North Cotaboto District Jail in Kidapawan city early Wednesday morning, releasing at least 158 prisoners and prompting an exhaustive manhunt effort throughout the region.

It’s the largest jailbreak in the nation’s history, Xavier Solda, senior inspector and spokesman for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, told the Chicago Tribune Wednesday. The news arrived as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is pursuing peace talks with the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, two of the largest armed Muslim groups in the Philippines who may have been responsible for Wednesday’s attack on the local jail.

North Cotaboto District Jail turned into a battle zone Wednesday morning as the armed militants spurred a two-hour long firefight with prison guards, local police and army troops, according to Dionardo Carlos, Philippine National Police spokesperson.

"The jail guards were trying to stop the attackers and then our police responded," he told Al Jazeera. "Unfortunately, because of the commotion, some inmates escaped using a wooden ladder that they stuck to the wall at the back portion of the jail."

Six prisoners were killed by gunfire while attempting to escape the jail, when over 100 militants clashed with security forces after 1 a.m. local time. At least 1,511 inmates were being held in the facility at the time of the jailbreak.

Wednesday’s breach is just the latest in a series of jailbreaks across the Philippines, as militant groups target low-security prisons, occasionally releasing their own members. Groups staged multiple jailbreaks during the summer of 2016, releasing at least 31 detainees, including eight militants, in two locations across the southern Philippines.

Over 120,000 people have been killed in the southern Philippines conflict that has lasted four decades and doesn’t show many signs of letting up anytime soon, as previous peace agreements have quickly dissolved and resentment against government remains a prevalent issue in the nation’s southern islands.


158 inmates freed as suspected Muslim rebels storm prison


More than 100 suspected Muslim rebels stormed a jail in the southern Philippines before dawn Wednesday, allowing 158 inmates to escape in what officials said was the biggest jailbreak in the country.

Six of the inmates were killed in firefights with pursuing police and army troops, while eight others have been caught and were being returned to the facility, said Senior Inspector Xavier Solda, spokesman for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

Solda said the heavily armed gunmen emerged from a forest and attacked the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan under the cover of darkness. Kidapawan city in Cotabato Province is about 580 miles southeast of the capital Manila.

“To my knowledge, this is the biggest jailbreak in the history” of the bureau, Solda said in a telephone interview.

Acting Provincial Jail Warden Supt. Peter John Bongngat Jr. said one of the about 20 prison guards on duty was killed and an inmate was wounded in an initial gun battle.

Bongngat and Kidapawan police chief Supt. Leo Ajero said gunfire continued for hours after the attack as army troops and police, some in armored tanks, hunted through the surrounding forests for the escaped inmates and the gunmen who freed them.

Bongngat said the attackers were suspected to include members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and guerrillas who broke away from the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has signed a peace deal with the government.

The jail held 1,511 inmates, including Bangsamoro members facing murder charges for a series of bombings in the province, officials said. It was the third attack on the provincial jail facility since 2007.

Local village leader Alexander Austria told The Associated Press by telephone that he and his men captured one escaped man.

He said the gunfire woke his village, which was several miles from the prison, and he immediately posted guards because of worries the attackers and escaped inmates could enter the village.

“We heard the gunfire and we sprang into action to guard our village,” Austria said. “We were afraid the escapees could try to enter our village to hide or take hostages.”

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