Two Indonesians seized by Abu Sayyaf rescued in Sulu

Soldiers inspect a passenger vehicle at a checkpoint in Jolo, Sulu on the southern Philippine Island of Mindanao on July 16, 2017.
Soldiers inspect a passenger vehicle at a checkpoint in Jolo, Sulu on the southern Philippine Island of Mindanao on July 16, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Philippine security forces on Thursday (Sept 7) rescued two Indonesians seized in November by the Abu Sayyaf extremist group off Kunak town in Sabah, Malaysia.

Brigadier-General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said in a report Saparuddin bin Koni, 43, and Sawal bin Maryam, 36, were found at around 6.30am inside a van in Indanan district in Sulu province, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

It was not clear whether the two were alone inside the van or were being driven, but no one was reported arrested.

Minutes before the two were rescued, government troops fought some 20 Abu Sayyaf gunmen in nearby Talipao district. Five militants were killed.

Mr Saparuddin, a boat skipper, and Mr Sawal, his assistant, were taken by the Abu Sayyaf on Nov 16 last year, as they were fishing in waters off Kunak.

There were 11 others on board, but they were spared.

The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding 15 more hostages.

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".

The Abu Sayyaf, however, has become better known for profiting from kidnapping tourists, fishermen and sailors.

Since it turned kidnaping into a lucrative trade, the group has already beheaded an American, a Malaysian, two Canadians and a German.

The group was behind several kidnappings in Sabah. In March, five Malaysian sailors, abducted last July, were rescued.