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22 die as police storm Manila jail


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Police storm a Manila jail to prevent an uprising by a group linked to al Qaeda.
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MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Philippine police have stormed a Manila prison to put down a revolt by members of the al Qaeda-linked Muslim separatist group Abu Sayyaf, killing 22 inmates.

Most of the dead were believed to be members of Abu Sayyaf. Four group leaders were among the dead, said Gen. Avelino Razon, chief of the Philippine National Police.

Five police officers were wounded in the raid.

Philippine Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes identified two of the dead leaders as Ghalib Andang, known by the alias "Commander Robot," and Alhamser Mantad Limbong, also known as "Commander Kosovo."

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo praised the raid that ended the standoff.

"Terrorism will never win in the Philippines," she said. "I commend the government team lead by Secretary Angelo Reyes that exhausted all peaceful means to resolve the ... crisis, weighed their options after an extended standoff, and finally decided to use force as a last resort.

"I thank our people for their support in the war against terror. We shall not let our guard down and we shall prevail in every battle for peace and freedom."

The 22 deaths in Tuesday's raid brought the number of dead in the two-day standoff to 27. Three inmates and two guards were killed when the uprising began Monday.

The prison revolt came despite intelligence reports dating back three to four weeks that said inmates were planning a jailbreak. Government officials promised an investigation.

Philippine authorities issued an ultimatum to prisoners Tuesday morning and moved in with tear gas and gunfire to reclaim the facility.

The prison's 469 inmates include both Islamic militants and convicted criminals, but only about 10 inmates linked to the separatist group were behind the uprising, Reyes said.

Five police officers were wounded and a child who worked in a prison store was treated for exposure to tear gas during the raid, said Razon. Inmates in the four-story facility were sprayed with fire hoses to wash away the tear gas residue.

A total of 64 police officers took part in the operation, Razon said.

The inmates overpowered guards during an inspection Monday and demanded speedy trials, safety and access to news organizations.

Several high-level government officials had attempted to negotiate with the prisoners, and complained that the inmates continually shifted their demands.

U.S. and Philippine authorities say Abu Sayyaf is linked to al Qaeda and Indonesia's Jemaah Islamiyah, the group blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.

Prison uprising

Monday's standoff began when a suspected Abu Sayyaf member was about to be escorted to a court hearing.

Before he could be handcuffed, the suspect overpowered a guard, took a rifle and shot the prison officers around him, officials said.

Other inmates joined in, overpowering guards and demanding speedy trials, safety and access to news organizations.

Several high-level government officials attempted to negotiate with the prisoners but complained that the inmates continually shifted their demands.

One of the Abu Sayyaf leaders killed in Tuesday's assault, Limbong, allegedly was involved in a mass kidnapping in 2001-02 that left several hostages dead, and a ferry bombing a year ago that killed more than 100 people in the Philippines' worst terror attack.

Abu Sayyaf is notorious for deadly bombings and ransom kidnappings in which some hostages were beheaded.

Police spokesman Leopoldo Bataoil, who had warned of a major assault if the inmates didn't give up their weapons, said about 10 men were involved in the uprising, led by two Abu Sayyaf members.

State prosecutor Peter Medalle, who is handling several cases involving Abu Sayyaf, told reporters that jail guards were tipped off about a possible prison break three weeks ago because of an intercepted mobile phone conversation between Limbong and Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Solaiman.

"We warned them repeatedly ... as late as last week of the planned escape. Apparently, our warnings were ignored," he said.

Two years ago, a top terror suspect, Indonesian Fathur Rohman Al Ghozi, escaped from Manila police headquarters while serving a 12-year term for possession of explosives. He was killed in a shootout with police a few months later.

Last April, more than 50 inmates, led by suspected Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, used a smuggled pistol to flee from a jail on southern Basilan island.

In December, a Filipino suspect who was being interrogated about a bomb found on a bus was fatally shot at a Manila detention center after allegedly killing a guard.

Philippine jails are often dilapidated, with inadequate and sometimes corrupt staff.

Journalist Maria Ressa contributed to this report



Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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