MANILA, April 12 — Fifty-three prison inmates in the southern Philippines, including members of the Islamic rebel group Abu Sayyaf, escaped over the weekend, but many have been captured or killed, officials said today.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the military and the police today to intensify the manhunt operations on the island province of Basilan, about 550 miles south of Manila, where the prison is located and Abu Sayyaf is based. “If the massive manhunt requires cordoning off the whole Basilan province to prevent the escapees from fleeing to other provinces, so be it,” the president said in a statement.
The inmates escaped on Saturday using a smuggled gun to subdue the guards, officials said. Of the 53 who escaped, 23 were members of Abu Sayyaf, said Lieut. Col. Daniel Lucero, a military spokesman. He said 25 had been recaptured and 9 had been killed.
The jailbreak has embarrassed the Arroyo administration, which has made progress during the past few weeks in its campaign against Abu Sayyaf, which Washington and Manila have linked to Al Qaeda.
Last week the military killed Hamsiraji Sali, one of the key leaders of Abu Sayyaf wanted by the United States in connection with the kidnapping of four Americans several years ago.
Late last month, the authorities arrested six people they said were members of Abu Sayyaf and were involved in a “Madrid-level” plot to blow up shopping malls and railway systems in Manila.
The United States warned the Philippine government in a meeting on March 22 that it was not doing enough in its fight against local terrorists. Ms. Arroyo ordered the recent crackdown immediately after that meeting, relying mainly on intelligence provided by the United States.
Since early 2002, the Americans and Philippines have been conducting military training exercises intended to help train the Philippine military in eliminating Abu Sayyaf. Washington sent hundreds of American troops to the southern Philippines for these exercises.
As a result of the training, the military operations on Basilan intensified, driving many Abu Sayyaf members off the island, although officials said a few hundred are still there. Many of Abu Sayyaf members who escaped from jail on Saturday had been captured during these American-supported exercises.