KIDAPAWAN, Philippines – Nearly 160 inmates escaped after suspected Muslim rebels attacked a jail in the southern Philippines before dawn Wednesday, and at least six people were shot dead as pursuing government forces traded fire with gunmen, officials said.
Acting Provincial Jail Warden Supt. Peter John Bongngat Jr. said a guard was killed and an inmate was wounded in an initial gunbattle when dozens of gunmen stormed the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan in one of the country's largest jailbreaks in recent years. Kidapawan city in Cotabato Province is about 930 kilometers (580 miles) southeast of the capital Manila.
Bongngat and Kidapawan police chief Supt. Leo Ajero said gunfire continued for hours after the attack as army troops and police, some in armored tanks, hunted through the surrounding forests for the 158 escaped inmates and the gunmen who freed them.
Bongat said the heavily armed 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.
Local village leader Alexander Austria told The Associated Press by telephone that he and his men captured one escaped man.
He said the gunfire woke his village, which was several kilometers (miles) from the prison, and he immediately 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," Austria said. "We were afraid the escapees could try to enter our village to hide or take hostages."