A group of jihadist militants in the southern Philippines broke into a jail Saturday night, freeing eight jihadist comrades and twenty other prisoners. Authorities say jail guards put up minimal resistance when confronted with a group of dozens of heavily armed terrorists.
The Philippine Star reports the escape occurred on the southern island of Mindanao, home to most of the nation’s minority Muslim population. While the Star claims ten members of the Maute terrorist group stormed the prison, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and other media on the ground cite police officials as putting the number of attackers closer to fifty. All agree that the attackers were armed with grenades and rifles and that jail guards resisted little to the invasion.
According to the AFP, the terrorists approached the prison using two women, who asked to enter to deliver food. Upon distracting the guards, a group of an estimated 50 terrorists wielding assault rifles broke into the facility shouting, “allahu akbar,” the battle cry of Islamic terrorist groups, releasing eight other members of the group, and using four government trucks to drive out of the facility. Twenty others were released in what the Star described as a “diversionary ploy.”
“We were not able to fight back. Some of us were handcuffed. They threatened to kill us if we resisted,” one of the guards, Tongco Abdullah, told the Philippine Inquirer, which estimates the duration of the entire attack at ten minutes. Prisoners who remained in the jail also confirmed to the newspaper that the guards did nothing to stop the raid.
Among those released who are not members of the Maute group are those jailed for breaking drug laws as well as some thieves and others convicted on homicide charges, authorities confirmed.
AFP confirms that the Maute group has been linked to the Islamic State. “It has carried out kidnappings and bombings and is believed to have led an attack on an army outpost in the Mindanao town of Butig in February,” the report notes. The Maute terrorists have also been accused of committing beheadings and attacking police. The group often uses Islamic State flags during attacks.
President Rodrigo Duterte, himself a native of Mindanao, has confirmed that Manila has intelligence that the Islamic State is actively recruiting on the island. He has blamed “white Arabs” for proselytizing Islam in the Catholic-majority Philippines and coming to the island for “indoctrination.” “We have problems with Muslim insurgency, and we have to address them before they get contaminated by the ISIS disease,” he said earlier this month.
The Philippines is home to multiple jihadist groups — the most prominent among them is Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has abducted multiple foreign nationals on the island. The group received international media attention earlier this year following the beheadings of Canadian nationals John Ridsdel and Robert Hall. Abu Sayyaf has also threatened Senator Manny Pacquiao, one of the world’s most respected boxers and an outspoken Christian, who has lost sports sponsorships for making public remarks he argued were manifestations of his faith.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is also active on Mindanao, though it is an Islamist group seeking greater political influence in exchange for peace. Duterte has reached out to MILF leaders and offered some legitimization politically in exchange for help keeping the Islamic State out of the country. MILF leaders have warned that the Islamic State is seeking to recruit MILF sympathizers and returned Duterte’s overtures by supporting his signature campaign policy, the war on drug abuse.