Fifteen people were wounded, most of them civilians caught in the firefight outside Kidapawan's city hall compound and along a key commercial road. Police blamed former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but a spokesperson for the rebel group denied the claim.
The attackers fired a grenade into the gate of the Kidapawan city jail in North Cotabato province but missed on Sunday night, sparking a gunfight with guards who were later reinforced by nearby police forces.
The gunmen detonated a bomb and fired on civilians as they withdrew toward a mountainous region late on Sunday, police said.
At least three people died, including a Red Cross driver who was trying to bring wounded civilians to a hospital, regional police director Chief Superintendent Benjardi Mantele said.
Col. Leopoldo Galon, Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) spokesman, said about 50 heavily-armed men in black fatigue uniforms and wearing baclavas to hide their face attacked the Kidapawan City jail around 9:50 p.m. Sunday in an attempt to rescue a kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) group leader Datu Samad, also known as "Lastikman".
"Lastikman" was a former member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front - Special Operations Group (MILF-SOG), but was disowned by the MILF central committee due to his involvement in kidnapping and other criminal activities in Mindanao.
Kidapawan police chief Chino Mamburam said the attackers were believed to be former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who wanted to rescue a comrade detained for robbery and other crimes.
Mamburam said the assault failed because guards had bolstered security at the jail before the attack after being warned by police that Muslim rebels were planning an assault. Jail guards were also rapidly reinforced by police from a nearby station, he said.
Government forces were pursuing the attackers, he said.
Rebel spokesperson Von al Haq denied his group was involved in the attack.
He said that the attackers were not members of the Moro group, which has been focusing on yearslong peace talks with the Philippine government and has forged an accord that allows the rebels to help the government track and capture criminals and al-Qaeda-linked militants. - AP, Inquirer. Photo: Flickr user Dirk Hartung, CC 2.0.