Abu Sayyaf gunmen killed a Dutchman whom they had held hostage since 2012, during a firefight in the southern Philippines that also left at least six militants and eight soldiers dead on Friday, military officials said.
Ewold Horn, a 59-year-old wildlife photographer, was slain after he tried to escape his captors as they came under fire from government forces who tracked them down in a hinterland in Patikul, on far southern Jolo island, authorities said.
“He suffered several bullet wounds,” Col. Gerry Besana, the regional military spokesman, told BenarNews from Jolo.
A woman identified by the military as Mingayan Sahiron, the wife of Abu Sayyaf commander Raddulan Sahiron, was also killed in Friday’s clash. Officials said it was unclear whether her husband, who is wanted by U.S. authorities for suspected terrorism, was in the area at the time.
In Manila late on Friday, the Embassy of the Netherlands issued a statement about the Dutchman’s killing in the Philippine south.
Horn was the first Western hostage allegedly killed by Abu Sayyaf militants, who are notorious for abducting foreigners including citizens of neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, since the group executed two Canadian captives in 2016.
“We are deeply saddened that our citizen – Mr. Ewold Horn, who was kept hostage for more than seven years, has been killed,” the embassy said via its Facebook page.
“Our deepest sympathy and thoughts are with his family in this hour of mourning.”
Col. Besana said residents had directed the military to a location in the jungle where the suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants were hiding out.
Troops crawled towards the hideout overnight before they carried out the surprise assault.
With back up from military aircraft, the Philippine armed forces deployed additional troops to the area to hunt down the fleeing militants, Besana said.
Taken in 2012
Horn and Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, both wildlife photographers involved in animal conservation, were abducted by Abu Sayyaf militants during an expedition together in the southern Philippines seven years ago. Their Filipino guide, Ivan Sarenas, escaped.
In December 2014, Vinciguerra fled his captors after overpowering one of the Abu Sayyaf men and killing him with a jungle knife. The Swiss man was later evacuated by Philippine troops.
Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo Jr, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, expressed his sympathy to the families and friends of Horn and condemned Abu Sayyaf’s “barbaric acts.”
“We are angered by the ASG’s utter disregard for human rights that they would murder Mr. Horn rather than be recovered by government forces …. We tried our very best to safely rescue him from his captors,” he said.
“We also express our sincerest sympathy to the family and friends of Mingayan Sahiron who was killed during the law-enforcement operations this morning. The law must be implemented to protect the lives of the Tausug community against all acts of terror,” he added, referring to the local tribe of Jolo.
Raddulan Sahiron, a one-armed senior leader of Abu Sayyaf, has a bounty on his head of up to U.S. $1 million for his capture. His name and photo are on the American Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of most wanted terrorists because of his alleged role in the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in November 1993, according to his profile on the FBI’s website.
Sahiron was one of the original Abu Sayyaf commanders who led the group in a series of abductions, including of two Americans in 2001.
The United States has blacklisted the ASG, which was founded in the early 1990s, as a foreign terrorist organization.
Horn’s death followed the killing of two children by Abu Sayyaf militants last weekend, when they attacked a remote village in Patikul where government soldiers were meeting with community leaders to discuss planned development projects.
Patikul, a remote area of Jolo island that is part of the Sulu chain, is a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, a small group of Islamic militants wanted for kidnappings, beheadings of hostages, bombings and acts of banditry in the south.
In January, an Abu Sayyaf faction that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group bombed Jolo’s Catholic cathedral, killing 23 people, according to Philippine authorities.
ASG is the smallest of several armed groups that operate in the restive south, but it is considered to be the most brutal one. Three years ago, the Abu Sayyaf beheaded two Canadian hostages and a German captive after their governments refused to pay ransoms for their release.
One of ASG’s leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, was later named the head of the Islamic State branch in the Philippine south. He was killed in October 2017 along with his aides, at the end of a five-month battle with government forces after leading militants in a siege of the southern city of Marawi.
Mark Navales and Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.