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Philippines

Armed men free 130 inmates from Philippines jail

Armed men with links to a Muslim rebel group have attacked a jail in the southern Philippines and freed at least 130 inmates. The army and police have launched an operation to capture those involved.

Unidentified gunmen with apparent links to a Muslim rebel group attacked a jail in the city of Kidapawan in the southern Philippines early Wednesday morning and freed at least 130 inmates.

A firefight which involved more than 100 men and lasted for hours killed a guard and freed the inmates in what was described as a "well-planned" escape.

"The [inmates] took chances because of the volume of fire," said Superintendent Peter Bongat, warden at the North Cotabato District Jail. "They used their bedding, piled them on top of each other to escape."

According to Bongat, the rebel commander behind the assault was from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The government signed a peace deal with MILF in 2014, but clashes still occur with smaller groups.

Army, police searching for escapees

Early estimates say between 130 and 154 inmates were able to escape the jail, which houses 1,511 inmates. Some who escaped were later recaptured. Kidapawan police chief Superintendent Leo Ajero said army and police were searching for both those responsible for the attack on the jail and the escaped inmates.

Several prison breaks have occurred on the southern island of Mindanao, where Wednesday's attack occurred. Mindanao is the ancestral homeland of Muslims in the predominately Catholic country of the Philippines. 

The region has seen a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency and criminal gangs, with some members supporting the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). Pro-IS extremists freed 23 inmates in a series of escapes in 2016.

kbd/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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