Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said troops caught up with the Abu Sayyaf militant captors of Allan Hyrons and his wife, Wilma, in the mountainous hinterlands off Parang town in Sulu province and rescued the couple safely after a brief gunbattle.
“There was a running gunbattle. They left the two behind because they could not drag them anymore. They scampered in different directions but our troops are in pursuit,” Sobejana said. The Hyrons were not hurt in the 10-minute firefight, the military said, adding that no ransom was paid to the Abu Sayyaf militants.
A picture released by the military showed the couple smiling in a military camp and talking with generals and other army officers in Sulu. Sobejana said the couple will undergo medical checkup and will be interviewed by military officials.
Gunmen abducted the couple last month as some villagers watched in shock from their beach resort in southern Zamboanga del Norte province, sparking a massive search. The couple also owned a college in Zamboanga del Norte’s Tukuran town, where they have lived for years.
Military offensives against ransom-seeking militant groups such as the Abu Sayyaf have reduced abductions in recent years, but they continue to occur. Sobejana confirmed that three Indonesian fishermen abducted recently off Malaysia’s Sabah state on northern Borneo island near the sea border with the southern Philippines were in the hands of Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen have staged kidnappings in and off Sabah in the past, sparking a regional security alarm. The rescue of the Hyrons came after the military inflicted successive battle defeats recently to the Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the Philippines.
Troops killed a “high-value” but little-known Abu Sayyaf commander, Talha Jumsah, on Friday near Sulu’s mountainous Patikul town. Jumsah acted as a key link of the Islamic State group to local jihadists and helped set up a series of deadly suicide attacks in Sulu this year.
Troops killed five Abu Sayyaf militants, including two commanders, Sunday in a separate clash in Sulu. One of the slain commanders, Sibih Pish, had been blamed for past ransom kidnappings. The Abu Sayyaf emerged in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation. After losing its commanders early in battle, the Abu Sayyaf rapidly degenerated into a small but brutal group blamed for ransom kidnappings, beheadings and other acts of banditry. Most of its militant factions have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.