Police stormed a maximum-security jail in a hail of gunfire yesterday, killing 22 detainees and retaking the facility from Muslim militants who stole weapons from guards during a botched breakout.
Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes said four leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group were among the dead, including two men who headed Monday's escape attempt at Camp Bagong Diwa in suburban Manila that left an additional five people dead.
"The terrorists got what was coming to them," Ignacio Bunye, press secretary for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said in a statement. "The crisis team gave them all the chances to peacefully surrender."
The assault to end the latest in a string of embarrassing jail breaks and attempts raised worries about terror attacks, national police chief Arturo Lomibao said.
"We hope there's going to be no retaliatory strikes from our Muslim brothers because they know what happened here," he said. "We tried to resolve it peacefully. There's no such thing as persecution or that we are singling them out."
An Abu Sayyaf leader still at large, Abu Sulaiman, warned the public, in an interview with DZBB radio, that the militants would bring war "right into your doorstep." The group claimed responsibility for three bombings in three cities last month that killed eight people and wounded 100.
After yesterday's assault, sweat-soaked police marksmen filed out of the building to the applause of bystanders, escorting detainees stripped to their underwear and with hands clasped behind their heads.
Officials said police found eight handguns and two unexploded grenades in the jail after the assault, which left 22 inmates and one officer dead and six other officers wounded. The lone police fatality was discovered under a pile of debris hours after the operation ended.
Senior Superintendent Benjamin Magalong called the fighting "intense."
Reyes named three Abu Sayyaf leaders among the detainees killed: Alhamzer Manatad Limbong, known as Kosovo; Ghalib Andang, known as Commander Robot; and Nadzmie Sabtulah, alias Commander Global. All were accused in mass kidnappings and other terror acts.
Abu Sayyaf detainee Hazdi Daie, a spokesman for the inmates, also was killed, Reyes said.
Identities of the other 18 detainees killed were not immediately known.
The assault came after Reyes gave the inmates 15 minutes to surrender. A deal Monday to end the drama fell apart over the militants' demand for dinner.
"They refused to yield the firearms which they grabbed from the guards and turned down our calls and assurances for their safety, including the plea of our Muslim leaders," Reyes said.
As the deadline passed, intense gunfire rang out. Police fired tear gas, and sharpshooters ran in and out of the main steel gates wearing gas masks. A police helicopter hovered above and ambulances waited for casualties.
The jail had about 425 suspects, including 129 suspected members and leaders Abu Sayyaf, notorious for deadly bombings and ransom kidnappings in which some hostages were beheaded.