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Philippine prison breakout points to “lawlessness” of country’s south

Islamic extremists freed 23 inmates from a prison on the southern island of Mindanao this weekend. According to analysts, the country’s south has a history of corruption in its jails that could encourage extremists to become even more violent and aggressive

Logan Connor
August 29, 2016
Philippine prison breakout points to “lawlessness” of country’s south
pa05279154 Filipino soldiers are seen in the back of a military truck as they wait for orders during a military offensive on the outskirts of Jolo, Sulu Island, southern Philippines, 27 April 2016. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) vowed to 'neutralize' Abu Sayyaf terrorists after the beheading of a Canadian hostage, who was kidnapped from a resort in the southern Philippines along with three others in September. 'There will be no let-up in the determined efforts of the joint AFP- PNP task group's intensive military and law enforcement operations to neutralize these lawless elements and thwart further threats to peace and security,' said the army and the police in a statement issued. 'The President has directed the security forces to apply the full force of the law to bring these criminals to justice,' read the statement, in which authorities also conveyed condolences to the Canadian government and the family of the victim John Ridsdel. EPA/BEN HAJAN

Islamic extremists freed 23 inmates from a prison on the southern island of Mindanao this weekend. According to analysts, the country’s south has a history of corruption in its jails that could encourage extremists to become even more violent and aggressive

Philippine prison breakout
A Philippine inmate is seen inside a jail following a raid at the national prison in Muntinlupa city, south of Manila, Philippines, 04 November 2015. Photo: EPA/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

Members of the Maute Islamic extremist group freed eight suspected militants from a prison located in the Philippines’ restive south on Saturday, according to police reports. During the raid, 15 other inmates also escaped.
Roughly 20 members of the Maute group assaulted the Lanao del Sur provincial jail in Marawi city, freeing the 23 inmates in just ten minutes without firing a shot, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s website.
The eight escapees had been arrested at a military checkpoint in Lanao del Sur province on August 22 while allegedly in possession of weapons and explosives. Among the detainees was Abdullah Maute, the leader of the Maute group, reported Rappler.
“These escapees pose [a] serious threat to public safety and must be prevented from sowing further terror,” regional police chief Noel Constantino said in a statement yesterday.
Philippine soldiers on patrol after attack by Islamic militants
Philippine soldiers on patrol at a street in Jolo, Sulu province, southern Philippines, 29 July 2014, after an attack by Islamic militants. Photo: EPA/BEN HAJAN

Shay Cullen, president and CEO of People’s Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation, a Philippines-based social development organisation, said that given the relatively peaceful nature of the escape, the raid was likely carried out along with local police. “[Because there were] no shots fired, there seems to be an agreement between the local police and some of these militants,” he said, explaining that there were often financial incentives for police or prison guards to collude in an escape.
Cullen added that the recent prison break would likely spur Islamic extremists to conduct similar raids in the future. “I think this will, of course, encourage [extremists] to become more violent and more aggressive,” he said. “[T]hey’ve been able to get their people out of jail, they’ve been able to overwhelm the police station. They will feel they are more empowered and [able to] get away with [future raids].”
Prisons on Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines and home to several Islamic militant groups such as Abu Sayyaf, are particularly prone to organised escapes, according to Clark Jones, a research fellow at the Australian University who studies radicalisation within prisons. “[B]ecause of the lawlessness and the general lack of community cooperation around those facilities, it is very easy for breakouts,” said Jones.
He added that Philippine military and police forces often struggle to combat militant forces in the southern Philippines and that weak security within prisons often made it easy for inmates to coordinate with the outside world. “Contraband is rife in those prisons,” he said. “So inmates can easily communicate to get support from the outside if they want to organise escapes or bring in weapons… just because they’re locked away, it doesn’t mean that activities aren’t still occurring.”
The Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Isis, is based in the town of Butig, Lanao del Sur province. This year, the extremist organisation has attacked army troops, beheaded a soldier and kidnapped and beheaded two sawmill workers. Before their executions, the workers were reportedly made to wear orange shirts, similar to beheading victims of Isis, the Associated Press reported.
The military and police are said to be pursuing the escaped militants.

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