Gunmen believed to be Islamic militants freed over 150 inmates in an assault on a prison in the Philippines.
Around 100 armed suspected Islamic militants helped 158 prisoners escape from North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan early Wednesday, Reuters introduced.
The gunmen opened fire on the facility, giving the prisoners a chance to escape. One guard and six prisoners were killed in the two-hour firefight.
Fourteen prisoners have since been apprehended, and authorities are searching for the other escapees.
Wednesday’s jailbreak is the largest in the history of the Philippines, said Bureau of Jail Management and Penology spokesman Xavier Solda.
“[The escapees] are mostly our Muslim brothers, and most of them are Moro Islamic Liberation Front members,” Acting Provincial Jail Warden Superintendent Peter John Bongngat Jr. told CNN.
“The others likely just went along with the jailbreak,” he added.
MILF, an Islamic militant separatist group, signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 2014; however, several smaller militant factions continue to fight.
The leader of Wednesday’s attack, who operates under the alias Commander Derbie, is said to have ties to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group which split off from MILF.
The latest prison break occurred on the island of Mindanao, home to several Muslim militant organizations committed to establishing an independent Islamic state separated from the rest of the largely Catholic Philippines.
Shirlyn Macasarte, acting governor of North Cotabato, revealed that her office had been tipped off in advance that BIFF might attempt to free some of its members.
“All security personnel were prepared for that eventuality,” Bongngat said, noting that the police and army were expecting a New Year’s attack.
The Philippines experienced another jailbreak led by Muslim militants several months ago.
Around two dozen gunmen affiliated with the Maute Group stormed the Lanao del Sur provincial prison in Marawi with RPGs, AK-47s and M-14s in August, freeing eight militants and 15 other prisoners.
The Maute Group is a Muslim militant group that operates out of Butig and is led by Abdullah Maute, who is reported to have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.
Assaulting prisons and freeing inmates is a tactic that has been frequently utilized by Islamic militant groups in the Middle East.
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