Philippine army rescues three Vietnamese sailors from terrorists

MANILA (AFP) - Three Vietnamese sailors held for eight months by Islamist gunmen have been rescued by soldiers in the southern Philippines, the army said Saturday (Nov 11), in the latest operation against the kidnap-for-ransom militants.

The sailors were found in the southernmost island group of Tawi-Tawi on Friday (Nov 10) along with the body of another Vietnamese seaman who had died in captivity from an illness, regional military commander Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez said.

"He was already dead when the troops found them," Galvez told AFP, adding that he could not reveal further details because the military operation against the kidnappers was ongoing.

The Vietnamese sailors were among the crew of a cargo vessel captured in February in the seas off the southern Philippines and held by the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic extremist group blamed for kidnappings, piracy and bombings in the area.

Galvez said the Abu Sayyaf are still holding a number of Filipino and foreign hostages including Ewold Horn, a Dutch bird-watcher abducted in 2012.

Abu Sayyaf, originally a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, has splintered into factions, with some continuing to engage in banditry and kidnappings.

One faction has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, and took part in a brutal siege of the southern city of Marawi that sparked a five-month battle with government forces that claimed over a thousand lives.

The gunmen are known to behead their captives if ransom demands are not met.

German national Jurgen Kantner, 70, was beheaded in February after the kidnappers' demand for 30 million pesos (S$800,000) was not met.

Last year, the group beheaded two Canadian hostages.