The last of the Malaysians being held captive by Abu Sayyaf have been freed by the Philippine Army.
The military announced on Monday (March 27) that it had rescued three hostages as part of its ongoing campaign against the Islamic State (IS) affiliated group.
On Thursday, we reported how two other Malaysians were freed from the clutches of the group that still hold an estimated 28 victims in its southern strongholds.
The three men freed were originally kidnapped from a tugboat eight months ago. The military said the three were rescued from Jolo island in the southern Sulu province on Sunday but gave no further details of the operation.
The men were named as Zulkipli Bin Ali, Mohammad Ridzuan Bin Ismail and Fandy Bin Bakran. They are now in hospital under assessment.
Yesterday, we reported how Australian Foreign Minister confirmed that IS was eyeing the southern Philippines as the base for a new stronghold as it loses ground in the Middle East.
As we have previously reported, the leader of Abu Sayyaf Isnilon Hapilon has been declared ‘emir’, or leader, of IS in Southeast Asia.
Abu Sayyaf has its roots in Moro separatism but engages mostly in piracy and kidnap-for ransom.
It has proven a formidable opponent for the Army, with a small, agile and well-equipped network entrenched in the jungles.
It has gained a reputation as one of the world’s most brutal groups, delivering on promises to behead hostages unless ransom is paid. Its most recent victim was German Jurgen Kantner, who was beheaded last month. Last year two Canadians met the same fate.
Dutch, Indonesian, Filipino and Japanese hostages are among those still being held.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recently described Abu Sayyaf’s kidnappings as a “national embarrassment” — with the number of hostages nearly doubling since President Duterte took office.