Hostages escape extremist militants in Philippines

  • 20/08/2015
(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

Two Philippine coast guards held hostage by Al-Qaeda-linked militants sprinted through gunfire to freedom, as government forces raided the extremists' hideout and killed 15 of them.

Gringo Villaruz and Allan Pagaling slipped separately from the Abu Sayyaf camp on Wednesday night and raced through the jungle as their captors engaged in a gun battle with the army, Captain Antonio Bulao says.

The men, who were abducted in May along with another hostage who was later beheaded, sought refuge at a village about 1.5 kilometres away.

They did not know of each other's escape until they saw each other Thursday at a local military hospital, where they were treated for bruises.

The army this week launched a risky attempt to rescue 11 hostages - including Villaruz and Pagaling as well as two Malaysians, a Dutchman and a South Korean - after the militants beheaded a 12th captive last week.

The military said 15 Abu Sayyaf gunmen were killed, but the remains of only five were recovered, while several soldiers sustained minor injuries.

The fate and whereabouts of the remaining nine hostages were unknown, Captain Bulao said.

"The operations will continue. There will be no let-up because we are gaining ground," he said.

The kidnappers are believed to be led by Yasser Igasan, one of the group's most senior leaders, who is believed to be among those who escaped after the firefight.

The two coast guards were in May abducted in the southern port city of Dapitan, some 250 kilometres from Jolo, along with village official Rodolfo Boligao.

Boligao's decapitated remains were found on a dark Jolo highway last week after the government rejected the Abu Sayyaf's unspecified ransom demand.

Separate fighting in neighbouring Basilan island on Wednesday left five Abu Sayyaf members and one soldier killed, the military said.

Impoverished Jolo and Basilan are known strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf, a loose band of several hundred armed men set up in the 1990s with seed money from Al-Qaeda.

The group engages in kidnappings to finance operations, often targeting foreigners, and sometimes beheading captives if ransom is not paid.

It has been blamed for the worst bomb attacks in the country, including the firebombing of a ferry off Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.