Filipino Marines retrieved two Indonesian captives from Islamic State-linked militants Friday, but one later died from his wounds after he was shot during a rescue operation in the southern Philippines, officials said.
At least three gunmen, identified as members of the Abu Sayyaf Group, were also killed during the clash that took place on Simisa Island, part of a chain of islands in southern Sulu province, the military said.
Elsewhere in the same province, three elite Scout Ranger troops and four Abu Sayyaf militants were killed Friday in combat operations against a huge band of gunmen, the military said, adding that 13 soldiers and 14 gunmen were wounded.
“Just before sundown, we received an initial report … that, unfortunately, one of the two Indonesian captives did not survive,” Col. Gerry Besana, spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command, told BenarNews. “They shot the victims as they escaped during the encounter.”
But the Indonesian foreign ministry said the Indonesian who died was apparently wounded during a crossfire.
“He was in the position of being surrounded by soldiers and militant groups. He panicked and fled and jumped when he moved from one location to another,” Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, a director at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BenarNews.
Besana did not identify which of the two Indonesian captives – Heri Ardiansyah, 19, and Hariadin, 45 – was killed. Iqbal also did not identify the Indonesian who died, saying he was still coordinating with Philippine authorities.
A third captive, Malaysian Jari Abdullah, was recovered Thursday although he was also shot by the Abu Sayyaf gunmen as they fled advancing security forces, according to the military.
The three men were reported as missing Dec. 6 in the Pegasus Reef area in eastern Sabah waters off Malaysian Borneo, after their boat was discovered with its engine running. An investigation showed that the trio was seized by seven gunmen who allegedly sped toward the direction of Sulu, sources said.
“We will continue the pursuit operations,” Besana said, adding that the Indonesian Embassy in Manila had been informed of the incident.
Authorities believe the two Indonesians were the same men shown in a video of two hostages released by Abu Sayyaf on social media in February this year. The video showed two men kneeling before their captors who were threatening to behead their hostages.
The kidnapping took place although the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia had launched trilateral sea and air patrols, starting in 2016, to combat piracy and maritime abductions in their common seaways.
The second gunbattle took place as troops caught up with about 50 Abu Sayyaf gunmen led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the likely new regional leader of Islamic State (IS) after the death of Isnilon Hapilon in October 2017, officials said.
Hapilon and other militants from Southeast Asia and the Middle East were among the 1,200 people killed in a five-month battle with government forces in Marawi, the country’s only predominantly Muslim city. The military demolished the militants with near-daily aerial bombings, leading to the formerly Muslim trading hub’s devastation.
The Abu Sayyaf, founded in the early 1990s, is notorious for kidnappings, bombings and beheadings in southern Philippines. The group has been designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.
Since their defeat in Marawi, IS-linked militants have been blamed for other recent deadly attacks, including a January bomb attack at a church on remote Jolo island in the south that left 23 people dead and more than 100 wounded.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Cotabato City, Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro and Richel V. Umel in Iligan City and Tia Asmara in Jakarta contributed to this report.