01/04/2017, 10.47
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Mindanao, Muslim extremists attack prison, 150 prisoners escape

The target of the attack is the district prison in North Cotabato, close to Kidapawan. Fundamentalist groups, criminal gangs, and communist guerrillas active in area. The assault lasted at least two hours; guard dies in shootout, detainee injured. Police and army launch manhunt.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - An armed group, perhaps linked to extremist movements and Islamic separatists active in the southern Philippines, launched a dawn attack on the district prison in North Cotabato, near the city of Kidapawan on the island of Mindanao. In the assault at least 150 prisoners fled. A prison guard died in the crossfire with the commandos and a prisoner was injured.

In the past there have been cases of attacks on Philippine prisons, particularly in the south where for Islamist separatist groups and jihadist movements (linked to the Islamic State) have been active, in the only Asian country with a Catholic majority. The raid took place just before dawn and is not an isolated case, given that in the past there have been similar cases.

Eyewitnesses report that the assault lasted at least two hours, with violent shooting between prison guards and assailants. At least a hundred gunmen launched the attack; the head of the group is a commander linked to the rebel Muslim militias.

Inside the prison, there were at least 1,500 prisoners. About 150 took advantage of the confusion that ensued to escape from their cells, step over the boundary walls by stacking beds one above the other and flee into the surrounding area.

Peter Bonggat, a prison guard present at the time of the attack, reports that the target of the raid was the release of some prisoners linked to Islamic extremism. The police and army have launched a massive manhunt to capture all the fugitives, but have so far have recaptured only six. The suspicions of the authorities are currently concentrated on a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main rebel separatist movement of the south of the country who signed a peace agreement in the recent past with the central government in Manila.

In August last year, Islamic extremists close to the Islamic State (IS) freed eight detainees and 15 other prisoners in the prison of Marawi, a city of Mindanao.

Kidapawan, the city where today's attack took place, is located about 950 km south of Manila. Various Muslim insurgent groups are active in the area, criminal gangs linked mainly to drug trafficking and arms sales and communist guerrillas.

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