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Philippine Police Kill 8 Escapees; Search for Dozens Continues - 2004-04-11


Philippine security forces are still hunting for more than 30 prisoners, including suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, who took part in a mass jailbreak on the remote southern island of Basilan.

Fifty-three inmates slipped out of the jail Saturday morning after overpowering their guards and leaving several of them wounded. Eight of the escapees were later shot dead and nine have now been recaptured, but most of them remain on the loose.

Many of the fugitives are reported to be members of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim terrorist group, and many of those were in jail for kidnapping and murder.

The group, which has been linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network, has carried out a series of kidnappings in the south of the country, including the capture of three Americans, one of whom was beheaded.

The escape came just two days after an incident on Basilan Island on April 8, in which security forces shot dead a high ranking Abu Sayyaf leader and five of his men.

An armed forces spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lucero, says the two incidents are not linked, although there were fears that jailed members might try to stage an escape.

"Its been a fear for some time that they might plan a jailbreak, and we believe that the incident yesterday has nothing to do with the encounter last April 8, because we believe that this jailbreak is planned beforehand," he said.

This is the latest in a series of embarrassing escapes for the Philippine law enforcement agencies. Over the past two years they have let slip, among others, a notorious kidnap gang leader, Faisal Marohombsar, and an Indonesian bombmaker with links to al-Qaida, Father Rohman al-Ghozi.

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