Abu Sayyaf militants kidnapped the stepmother and stepsister of the mayor of a remote town in the southern Philippines but were forced to free them 15 hours later following a massive manhunt, the military said Thursday.
The victims, Addang Tulawie 57, and Edelyn Tulawie, 27, were seized by about 20 heavily armed militants before dawn Wednesday in their home on Jolo island, military officials said.
The two are related to Nebukadnezar Tulawie, the mayor of Jolo’s Talipao town.
Local army chief Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, told BenarNews that troops rescued the hostages after launching an operation to free them.
The gunmen had abandoned their captives at dusk, although it was not clear whether there were any casualties, he said.
“The operating troops were able to rescue the two hostages in the forested area. They were later given a medical check-up and trauma debriefing,” Pabayo said.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), numbering less than 500 members, was founded in the early 1990s by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, an Afghan-trained Islamic firebrand. The group was set up to fight for a separate Muslim state in the south, but morphed into one of the region’s most notorious criminal groups specializing in kidnappings, bombings and beheadings.
ASG has been blamed for the Philippines’ worst terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a passenger ferry on Manila Bay that left more than 100 dead people dead in 2004.
The group is believed to be holding 12 hostages, including three Indonesians and seven Filipinos. Members beheaded a German and two Canadians over the last two years after they failed to pay millions of dollars in ransom.
The U.S. State Department has designated the Abu Sayyaf Group as a terrorist organization affiliated with Islamic State (IS).
An Abu Sayyaf commander, Isnilon Hapilon, later pledged allegiance to IS. Along with several Filipinos and fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East, he led a siege of the southern city of Marawi, leading to a five-month battle that ended shortly after his death in October 2017.
More than 1,200 people, most of them militants, were killed in the fighting.
Mark Navales in Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.