In one of the biggest jail breaks in recent times, more than 150 inmates escaped from a prison in southern Philippines after gunmen attacked the prison killing one guard, in the early hours of Wednesday (4 January).

According to officials, gunmen could possibly belong to Islamist separatist groups. Jail warden Superintendent Peter Bongat said that one inmate was injured while a guard was killed in a gun fight when several men armed with guns stormed the North Cotabato District jail in Kidapawan city that is almost 930km southeast of Manila.

Bongat added saying that the inmates managed to escape prison during a shootout between the gunmen and guards. "The [inmates] took chances because of the volume of fire. They used their bedding, piled them on top of each other to escape." He also said that he believed the attack was mounted to let out a number of rebels in the jail, which held more than 1,500 inmates.

The military and police have started a manhunt for the inmates who escaped and around six have been captured, the BBC reports.

The Associated Press quoted local village leader Alexander Austria as saying he and his men captured one escaped inmate. "We heard the gunfire and we sprang into action to guard our village. We were afraid the escapees could try to enter our village to hide or take hostages," he added.

The Philippines has reportedly been fighting separatists in the south for decades. Militant groups such as Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have carried out terror attacks and kidnapped tourists for ransom.

Philippines overcrowded prison Quezon jail
More than 150 inmates escaped a prison in the North Cotabato District jail in Kidapawan city, Philippines [representational image] Noel Celis/AFP