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Major manhunt underway for escaped prisoners in Philippines

RIA Novosti

11:42 14/12/2009 MOSCOW, December 14 (RIA Novosti) - A huge manhunt has been launched in the Philippines for 31 prisoners who were broken out of jail by gunmen, officials said.

Around 100 armed men, believed to be Muslim rebels, raided the prison on the southern island of Basilan in the early hours of Sunday, smashing a hole in the wall with a sledgehammer and killing a guard.

Police said the raiders rescued two Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders, convicted for beheading soldiers in 2007. At least one of the raiders was shot dead by police guards.

"These two rebel leaders are high-risk prisoners. We have organized a team together with the military units on the island to pursue them. We've started an internal inquiry to determine responsibility for the lax security in the jail," Reuters quoted provincial police chief Superintendent Abubakar Tulawie as saying.

The 31 who escaped are believed to include senior members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

A spokesman for MILF denied on Monday any involvement in the jailbreak.

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