Two Kidnapped Seafarers Escape Abu Sayyaf
Early Wednesday morning, local residents on the island of Sulu, Mindanao found an Indonesian seafarer trapped in fishing nets in a mangrove swamp. Mohammed Sayfan, 28, had just escaped after months of captivity at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
Local police forces said that Sayfan fled when the militants threatened to behead him; Abu Sayyaf has built a reputation for killing prisoners when ransoms go unpaid.
A military spokesman said that a second hostage, identified only as Ismail, was found in the same area Wednesday afternoon.
Media reports did not indicate whether other hostages had been harmed. Both men were crewmembers of the tugboat Charles, which was boarded by Abu Sayyaf members in late June. The terrorists abducted a total of seven seafarers and let another six go. The attack was part of a months-long string of Abu Sayyaf tug hijackings off of Sabah, Malaysia, near the maritime boundary with the Philippines.
The Sulu Archipelago has been the home base of the Abu Sayyaf Group for decades, especially the larger islands of Sulu, Jolo, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.
On Monday, Philippine forces in Basilan said that they had stormed a final Abu Sayyaf stronghold in Tipo-Tipo, known as Hill 355. The operation cleared the last of the militants' bases in the municipalities of Tipo-Tipo, Baguindan and Bohe-Piang, an area of roughly 50 square miles. The success adds to a joint assault last Sunday to clear Baguindan and Hill 440.
"[Army forces] finally seized the enemy’s stronghold at Brgy Silangkum, Tipo-Tipo, Basilan Province. The hill is the ASG’s last stronghold after the terrorists went on the run from the relentless military operation that started in July," said Lt. Ron Villarosa, Public Affairs Officer of the Fourth Special Forces Battalion in a statement. "A total of ten enemy bunkers, four tunnels, several foxholes and two Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs) were seized on Hill 355."
Lt. Villarosa said that the operation was carried out with intelligence from local volunteers.
The description of the operation mirrors earlier attempts to eradicate Abu Sayyaf on Basilan. In 2002, the Philippine military, aided by hundreds of American troops, swept through the island; however, analysts suggested that the terrorist group was able to reconstitute itself as soon as troop levels were drawn down. Large-scale military deployments with thousands of personnel followed again in 2006 in another attempt to overrun the group's bases and win over the local populace. In 2007, the Philippine military claimed to have reduced the group's strength on the island to 200 fighters; the number is still estimated to be small, but the group remains enough of a threat that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has called on the military to wage an all-out campaign to "destroy" Abu Sayyaf.