Policemen patrol outside the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan city, southern Philippines, after a massive jailbreak Jan. 4, 2017.
STR/AP
By Joseph Hincks
January 4, 2017

Dozens of gunmen with suspected links to Muslim rebel groups stormed a southern Philippine jail early on Wednesday morning, leading to the escape of more than 150 prisoners.

According to prison authorities, about 100 raiders opened fire on the North Cotabato District Jail on the island of Mindanao at around 1 a.m. local time, AFP reports. At least 158 of the jail’s 1,511 inmates are said to have broken free over the course of a two-hour gunfight in which one guard was killed.

“It’s to rescue their comrades under our custody. It is a rescue operation,” jail warden Peter John Bonggat said to local news station ABS-CBN, referring to the raid. “The (inmates) took chances because of the volume of fire … they used their bedding, piled them on top of each other to escape.”

Six inmates were killed in the firefight with police, while eight others were caught, the Associated Press quoted Senior Inspector Xavier Solda, spokesperson for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, as saying.

The attackers are believed to be a breakaway faction of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bonggat said. The group has been involved in long-running peace talks with the government.

The Philippines’ turbulent south has a history of violent jailbreaks. In August, around 50 members of the Maute group — which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State — staged a raid on a prison in nearby Marawi City, freeing 28 detainees.

According to local newspaper The Philippine Star, Wednesday morning’s attack marked the third time the jail has been targeted in a decade. It is situated in a remote forested area and reportedly lacks guards.

[AFP]

 

Write to Joseph Hincks at joseph.hincks@time.com.

SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT

Read More From TIME

EDIT POST