Philippine security forces rescued an Indonesian fisherman Wednesday, officials announced, weeks after authorities said he scampered, lost his way and was recaptured by Abu Sayyaf captors, while soldiers snatched two of his compatriots from the militants in southern Sulu province.
Muhammad Farhan, 27, was taken to a military hospital in Jolo town for medical examination after his rescue, Maj. Arvin Encinas, spokesman of the army’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), told BenarNews.
“Intensive combat and intelligence operations launched by the military troops led to the rescue,” Encinas said.
Soldiers launched the rescue after receiving information from villagers about Muhammad’s whereabouts, Encinas said, without elaborating. It was not immediately clear if security forces engaged the Indonesian’s suspected abductors in a gun battle.
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the WestMinCom chief, said in a statement sent to BenarNews that he was “pleased with this remarkable accomplishment.”
“This proves that our sustained rescue efforts and security operations to run down and degrade ASG have been very effective,” he said, using the acronym for the Abu Sayyaf Group, some factions of which had been linked with the Islamic State. “This breakthrough will be sustained to thwart kidnappings, dismantle the terror group.”
Last month, soldiers rescued two other Indonesian fishermen – Maharudin Bin Lunani, 48, and Samiun bin Maneu, 26 – after a clash that left one militant and a soldier dead, officials said. The two men were fishing with Muhammad when they were grabbed by armed men off Lahad Datu in nearby Sabah, Malaysia on Sept. 23, 2019, and then taken to Jolo, authorities said.
Muhammad scampered away during the rescue last month and was dragged away by his captors as troops closed in on the gunmen during the fighting in a remote village in Jolo, the Philippine military said at the time.
The military had refrained from commenting on the abductions initially, saying the incident had occurred in international waters. But intelligence officials told BenarNews that the fishermen were grabbed by pirates and later turned over to the Abu Sayyaf gunmen for profit. Similar abductions have occurred in the past, they said.
Sobejana told reporters last month that security forces were aiming to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf Group and two of its top leaders, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan and Radulan Sahiron.
Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander and a Muslim religious leader, is believed to be the new Islamic State leader in the south. He replaced Isnilon Hapilon, who was killed months after leading hundreds of fighters in taking over the southern city of Marawi in 2017. A five-month battle over the city killed 1,200 people, most of them militants.
The military said Sawadjaan’s group has been working with foreign militants and seeking new targets in the south after the fall of Marawi. Two Indonesian suicide bombers blew themselves up at a church in Jolo in January 2019, killing 23 people.
Last April, Filipino Marines rescued two Indonesian captives from their Abu Sayyaf captors, but one later died from his wounds after he was shot during a rescue operation on Simisa Island, part of a chain of islands in southern Sulu province, the military said.