Al Qaeda Militants Seize Jail

An escape attempt at a maximum-security jail holding suspected Muslim extremists in Manila left at least five people dead Monday and sparked a standoff with inmates who snatched weapons from guards.

Police surrounded the facility at Manila's Camp Bagong Diwa, where authorities have detained 129 suspected members of the Al Qaeda-linked (search) Abu Sayyaf group, including several leaders.

Mujib Hataman (search), a Muslim congressman who was negotiating with the inmates by telephone, said they were demanding assurances they won't be harmed if they surrender, speedy trials, the right to air their grievances to authorities and interviews with the media.

"We are now closer to an agreement," he said.

At least three guards were killed, said police Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr. Two Abu Sayyaf members also were killed, police said.

"We're going to assault these people if they don't turn over their weapons," police spokesman Leopoldo Bataoil warned.

He said about 10 inmates were involved in the uprising, led by Abu Sayyaf (search) members Alhamzer Manatad Limbong and Kair Abdul Gapar.

A spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf suspects, detainee Hazdi Daie, threatened in a telephone interview that if police storm the building, "then you will hear bombings all over Manila."

Limbong, also known as Kosovo, was allegedly involved in a mass kidnapping in 2001-02 that left several hostages dead, including two Americans, and a ferry bombing a year ago that killed more than 100 people in the Philippines' worst terror attack. Gapar is a kidnap-for-ransom suspect.

The early morning incident began when a suspected Abu Sayyaf member, who was about to be escorted to a court hearing, overpowered a guard before he could be handcuffed, took a rifle and shot the prison officers around him, police officials said. Other inmates then grabbed weapons.

Three guards were killed and three other prison officials were wounded and rushed to a hospital, police said.

It wasn't clear if hostages were being held, Cruz said. But Daie, the inmates' spokesman, told DZBB radio that the suspects were holding about 100 hostages. Police said only inmates remained inside the aging building.

An armored personnel carrier moved in front of the steel-fenced detention center. Another was positioned outside the gate. In a building across from the detention center, about two dozen police took cover. Several ambulances were on standby.

The Abu Sayyaf is notorious for deadly bombings and ransom kidnappings in which some hostages have been beheaded. A number of Abu Sayyaf suspects have managed to escape from jails.

State prosecutor Peter Medalle, who is handling several cases involving the Abu Sayyaf, told reporters that jail guards were tipped off about a possible prison break three weeks ago because of an intercepted mobile phone conversation between Limbong and Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Solaiman.

"We warned them repeatedly ... as late as last week of the planned escape. Apparently, our warnings were ignored," he said.

Two years ago, a top terror suspect, Indonesian Fathur Rohman Al Ghozi, escaped from Manila police headquarters while serving a 12-year term for possession of explosives. He was killed in a shootout with police a few months later.

Last April, more than 50 inmates, led by suspected Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, used a smuggled pistol to flee from a jail on southern Basilan island. In December, a Filipino suspect who was being interrogated about a bomb found on a bus was fatally shot at a Manila detention center after allegedly killing a guard.

Philippine jails are often dilapidated, with inadequate and sometimes corrupt staff.

Some politicians criticized lax security for the attempted jailbreak on the day the new national police chief took office.

"Incidents such as the jailbreak violence ... prove that there are still lapses and loopholes in the police systems and procedures," said Sen. Manny Villar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Illegal Drugs. "We are fast becoming the world's laughing stock because of what has been happening in our jails."