MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine soldiers rescued two Indonesian hostages on Thursday after a firefight that killed five of their Islamist militant captors on a southern island, an army commander said.
Five soldiers were also wounded in the encounter with about 20 members of the Abu Sayyaf group on its stronghold of Jolo in the country’s Mindanao region, Brigadier-General Cirilito Sobejana told reporters.
“Minutes later, we intercepted a van which was carrying two Indonesian captives while pursuing the Abu Sayyaf after the encounter,” said Sobejana. “They are now safe and undergoing tactical debriefing after medical checkup.”
Militants from the Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group known for beheading, kidnap-for-ransom and extortion, have attacked numerous trawlers and commercial ships in the Sulu and Celebes Sea.
The Islamic State-linked group poses one of the biggest internal security threats for the Philippines, with one faction pursuing an extremist agenda and another involved in lucrative banditry, including the piracy and kidnap business.
Abu Sayyaf typically holds at least two dozen hostages at a time, taking more people captive after others are executed, rescued or released when ransom is paid. A German and two Canadians were among those beheaded since 2016 after its deadlines expired.
Sobejana said the two Indonesian fishermen were abducted aboard a Malaysian-registered boat in November last year in waters near Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah.
The army said the group is still holding about 18 captives on the islands of Jolo and Basilan, including a dozen foreigners from Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Vietnam.
The Abu Sayyaf has fighters among a militant alliance that has occupied Marawi City in Mindanao for more than 100 days. Troops are still fighting to retake the city after a protracted battle that has killed more than 800 people, including 145 soldiers.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez