Philippine security forces rescued a Filipino doctor, who was abducted by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants early last month, after a brief firefight with a band of gunmen in the jungles of southern Sulu province, officials said Wednesday.
Military and police forces were patrolling Bangalan, a village in Indanan town, when they ran into the armed group on Tuesday night and both sides exchanged gunfire, the military’s southern command said. The doctor, Daniel Moreno, escaped to safety during the shootout, officials said.
“When our troops went on hot pursuit they stumbled upon Dr. Moreno,” said military regional command chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
The shootout was over in minutes but it allowed Moreno to flee to the side of the government forces, Capt. Ansbert Peralta, commander of the military intelligence unit that clashed with the gunmen, told reporters.
The militants escaped, and there were no casualties on either side.
Moreno, who was said to be unharmed, was quickly extricated and transported to a military brigade.
Sobejana said that the physician underwent medical examinations at a military hospital.
“So far, there is no adverse report about his health,” Sobejana told reporters.
The gunmen, believed to be led by Mundi Sawadjaan, seized Moreno on Feb. 4 inside his clinic in Jolo town, Sulu’s capital, officials said.
Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for a spate of kidnappings in recent years, where Malaysian and Indonesian sailors and fishermen have been taken hostage and held for ransom.
Military officials said Moreno could have been kidnapped because the militants needed a doctor to treat its wounded fighters after heavy clashes between government security forces and another band of gunmen led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the head of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in the southern Philippines.
Mundi Sawadjaan is believed to be a nephew of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who had launched deadly bombings on Jolo last year, including using two Indonesian suicide attackers who blew themselves up at a Catholic church, leaving 23 dead.
The militants had earlier demanded 4 million pesos (around U.S. $80,000) as ransom for the doctor’s release.
With Moreno’s rescue, the Abu Sayyaf is left with five Indonesian hostages who were snatched in January off Lahad Datu in Malaysia and taken to Jolo, the military said.