Three people including a local Red Cross volunteer were killed when dozens of armed men tried to free an Islamic militant from jail in the southern Philippines, authorities said Monday.
About 50 men wearing black military-style fatigues attacked the jail in the trading city of Kidapawan late Sunday, with one launching a rocket-propelled grenade at the main gate, said deputy police chief Inspector Rolando Tillera.
"They fired an RPG but it misfired. It failed to hit the jail's gate which was securely locked," Tillera told AFP.
The gunmen then opened fire on the jail with assault rifles but they fled when guards shot back, according to Tillera.
He said the gunmen sprayed bystanders with bullets as they retreated and left two bombs to stop security forces from pursuing them.
The fighting lasted only about five minutes but three civilians, including a Red Cross volunteer, were killed, Tillera said. Fifteen other people, most of them civilians, were also wounded by bomb shrapnel and bullets, he said.
Philippine Red Cross spokeswoman Gwendolyn Pang told AFP the volunteer was an ambulance driver who had gone to the scene to help victims after the fighting had ended, then died in one of the ensuing bomb blasts.
The gunmen were trying to rescue Datukan Samad, a fighter from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who is awaiting trial on kidnapping charges, said local military spokesman Colonel Leopoldo Galon.
However MILF spokesman Von al-Haq denied that the group was involved in the incident. He insisted Samad was not a member of the organisation, describing him as just "a notorious criminal".
The 12,000-strong MILF has been waging an armed struggle to create an independent or autonomous Islamic state in the southern Philippines since the 1970s.
More than 150,000 people have died in the conflict, according to military estimates.
The MILF has been involved in peace talks with the government for about a decade, and a ceasefire has been in place for much of that time, but dozens of people still die each year in violence related to the MILF's campaign.
In 2009 armed men broke 31 inmates out of a jail on the southern island of Basilan, including at least one MILF figure and several members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militant group.