Dozens of militants have stormed a jail in the southern Philippines, freeing eight members of the Maute terror group alongside other detainees. The attackers used a prison vehicle to escape after overpowering guards.
The Philippine government was hunting for 23 escaped inmates on Sunday after a jailbreak in Marawi City, provincial police director Agustine Tello said.
The escapees were said to include the leader of Maute militia, Hassim Balawag Maute, along with seven more militants, three of whom are women. A further 15 inmates were able to flee during the Saturday raid. They were facing murder and illegal drug charges, according to the police.
Jail warden Acmad Tabao said that the raid started when two women appeared at the prison gate, asking the guards to take some food inside for the detainees. When the guards opened the gate, a group of heavily armed men rushed through.
Police said the extremists carried AK-47s and M-16 rifles and shouted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great" in Arabic). Around 50 Maute militiamen took part in the attack, according to a police estimate.
The alleged Islamists made the guards kneel down and took away their weapons before freeing the inmates. After that, both the attackers and the prisoners drove away to a nearby lake in a prison vehicle, where Maute members boarded a boat and other inmates scattered.
The Saturday raid is the latest incident in a series of mass outbreaks across the Asian country.
No deal with Maute
The small Islamist faction is believed to be responsible for kidnappings and bombings, as well as an attack on an army outpost earlier this year when one soldier was beheaded. The group pledged alliance to the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) militants and its members were seen wearing IS symbols during the fighting.
The eight, jailed Maute members had only been arrested only a few days ago, when soldiers at a checkpoint found homemade bombs and weapons in their van.
Muslims are a minority in the dominantly Catholic Philippines. Manila is currently involved in peace talks with two largest Muslim militias, but the deal does not apply to smaller groups such as Maute. The Abu Sayyaff group, which made its name by kidnapping foreigners, is also not included in the talks.
dj/jm (AFP, dpa, AP)