Gunmen raid jail in Philippine south, 158 inmates freed

 04 Jan 2017 - 11:33

Gunmen raid jail in Philippine south, 158 inmates freed
Photo: AA.

AA

ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines: More than 150 inmates escaped a jail in the Philippines’ troubled south after gunmen suspected of rebel links raided the facility early Wednesday morning. 

After dozens of armed men reportedly dressed in black stormed the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan town in Cotabato province, a two-hour firefight broke out in which a guard and at least one inmate were killed, according to local media. 

Superintendent Peter Bungat, provincial jail warden, said the attack began with a power outage at the facility and subsequent heavy gunfire aimed at buildings within its fenced compound.

“It was not a jailbreak. It was a planned rescue of certain detainees,” he was quoted by the Philippine Star as saying, underlining that the gunmen focused on two cells holding high-profile inmates.

Bungat added that jail officials have been receiving feedback since dawn suggesting that the assailants are led by a “Commander Derby”, who is wanted for several offences including drug trafficking, extortion and armed robbery.

Commander Derby is an alias for the leader of the “Pentagon Group”, which operates in Cotabato and other parts of southern Mindanao island and is an alleged breakaway group of the country’s one-time largest Moro rebel outfit, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Star cited military intelligence sources as saying that there were indications that Wednesday’s raid was conducted by another MILF breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which pledged allegiance to Daesh in 2014.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama, however, has denied the claim, telling Catholic radio station dxMS that not a single member of BIFF -- which is opposed to an ongoing peace process between the MILF and the government -- was involved.

Officers from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the Special Action Force and the military are conducting clearing operations around the jail and surrounding areas.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Superintendent Leo Ajero, Kidapawan

police chief, as saying that two of the escapees have been captured.

A community volunteer watchman for Amas village, Alexander Austria, said an escapee who appeared “disoriented” and frightened was found wandering in an open field near provincial capitol Cotabato City. 

"We turned him over to the police,” he said, adding that local police had earlier warned of a plot to free high-profile inmates from the jail.

“We alerted the residents of Barangay [village] Amas because that’s the most we can do. Our barangay volunteer security group is not armed,” Austria said.

Wednesday’s raid was the third attack on the jail -- from which Commander Derby reportedly escaped last year -- since 2007.