Philippine security forces yesterday rescued two Indonesians seized last year by the Abu Sayyaf extremist group off Kunak town in Sabah, Malaysia.
Brigadier-General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said Mr Saparuddin Koni, 43, and Mr Sawal Maryam, 36, were found at around 6.30am in a van in Indanan district in Sulu province, Abu Sayyaf's stronghold.
The two men, who were unharmed but showing the effects of malnutrition, were spotted aboard the van at a checkpoint shortly after a firefight between troops and some 20 Abu Sayyaf gunmen nearby. Five militants were killed and five soldiers wounded in the encounter, according to Brig-Gen Sobejana.
"It appears they were able to flee their captors after the encounter that occurred 30 minutes prior to that," he was quoted as saying.
Mr Saparuddin, a boat skipper, and Mr Sawal, his assistant, were taken by the Abu Sayyaf on Nov 16 as they were fishing in waters off Kunak. There were 11 others on board, but they were spared.
Abu Sayyaf still holds 15 other hostages, all but two of them foreigners. One Vietnamese sailor was rescued last month after nine months in captivity.
The group has pledged allegiance to the ultra-radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Its chieftain, Isnilon Hapilon, led hundreds of militants that stormed Marawi on May 23 in an audacious bid to turn the southern Philippine city into an ISIS "province". Hapilon's men continue to occupy parts of Marawi despite a United States-backed military offensive there that has claimed nearly 800 lives and displaced nearly 400,000 people.
Founded in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, Abu Sayyaf has lately become better known for profiting from kidnapping tourists, fishermen and sailors. It has already killed a number of foreign hostages, including an American, a Malaysian, two Canadians and a German.