Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Sunday, 13 December 2009

Islamists flee Philippines prison after militants' raid


The jail in Isabela city where the inmates were freed

A group of suspected Islamic militants have attacked a jail in the southern Philippines, freeing at least 31 prisoners, prison officials say.

Two people, including a prison guard, are believed to have been killed during a gunfight as the prisoners escaped.

Basilan island's Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul told the Associated Press the gunmen had wanted to free Muslim guerrillas held in the jail.

He said other inmates had also escaped during the attack early on Sunday.

Mr Sakalahul said about 30 gunmen had used sledgehammers to break through the jail's concrete perimeter wall before using bolt-cutters to cut through padlocks on cell doors.

One of the prison guards was killed and another injured during the ensuing clash, provincial police chief Abubakar Tulawie told Reuters news agency.

'High-risk prisoners'

Regional military commander Maj Gen Benjamin Dolorfino told AP the 31 who escaped included suspected members of a Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf), and suspected militants from the Abu Sayyaf group.

Map of Philippines

Two Milf rebels accused of beheading a dozen soldiers on Basilan island in 2007 were among them.

"Those two rebel leaders are high-risk prisoners," Mr Tulawie said.

"We have organised a team together with the military units on the island to pursue them.

"We've started an internal inquiry to determine responsibility for the lax security in the jail."

The escape came just hours before the country's Defence Secretary Norberto Gonzales was due to arrive on the island, which is 550 miles (880km) south of Manila.

He is facing calls for emergency rule to be declared on the island because of Islamist violence.

The jail, located in the provincial capital, Isabela city, has a history of jailbreaks.

Three Abu Sayyaf militants escaped from the prison last year, while 16 prisoners broke out in 2007.

Five years ago, 53 inmates overpowered their guards using smuggled firearms and fled the prison.

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Pretoria NewsPhilippine militants in daring escape - 1 hr ago
China Post Militant attack frees 31 inmates in Philippine jail - 13 hrs ago
The Scotsman Rebels break down prison wall and set 31 inmates free - 16 hrs ago
Arab News 2 killed, 31 escape in Philippine jailbreak - 16 hrs ago
Houston Chronicle Militants attack Philippine jail, 31 inmates freed - 31 hrs ago
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