More than 150 inmates have escaped from a southern Philippine prison in an attack by dozens of gunmen which left one guard dead, BBC reports.

Authorities suspect the attackers were linked to Islamist separatist groups.

The Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic, has been battling separatists in the south for decades.

Groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf have conducted terror attacks as well as kidnapping tourists for ransom.

The prison break took place early on Wednesday morning at the North Cotabato District Jail near Kidapawan city, on the island of Mindanao.

One inmate was injured.

Prison authorities said the inmates managed to escape during a shootout between the gunmen and guards.

Jail warden Peter Bonggat told local broadcaster ABS-CBN: "The [inmates] took chances because of the volume of fire. They used their bedding, piled them on top of each other to escape."

He added that he believed the attack was to free a number of rebels who were in the jail.

Philippine military and police have launched a manhunt for the escaped inmates.

The MILF is in the midst of a long-running peace process with the Philippine government, but it has been hampered by the fact that the group has splintered into several factions and offshoot groups, some of which have refused to surrender.

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