Mass prison escape in Philippines as suspected rebels storm jail

Nearly 160 inmates escaped after suspected Muslim rebels attacked a jail in the southern Philippines before dawn. Six people were shot dead.

Filipino jail guards stand at the gates of a prison facility, where detainees escaped, in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato province. Althea Ballentes / EPA
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KIDAPAWAN // As many as 160 inmates escaped after suspected Muslim rebels attacked a jail in the southern Philippines before dawn on Wednesday, and six people were shot dead as pursuing government forces traded fire with gunmen, officials said.

Acting provincial jail warden superintendent Peter John Bongngat Jr said a guard was killed and an inmate was wounded in an initial battle when dozens of gunmen attacked the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan in one of the country’s largest jailbreaks in recent years. Kidapawan city in Cotabato Province is 930km southeast of the capital Manila.

Mr Bongngat and Kidapawan police chief superintendent Leo Ajero said gunfire continued for hours after the attack as army troops and police, some in armoured vehicles, searched the surrounding forests for the 158 escapees and those who freed them.

Prison officials inspect the perimeter fence of the district jail, where more than a hundred inmates esaped from. AFP

Mr 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.

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.

An armed policeman patrols along the perimeter fence of the district jail. AFP

Village leader Alexander Austria said he and his people captured one escaped man.

He said the gunfire woke his village, which was several kilometres from the prison, and he 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,” Mr Austria said. “We were afraid the escapees could try to enter our village to hide or take hostages.”

* Associated Press