Three Malaysian seamen kidnapped eight months ago by Muslim extremists have been found safe in the strife-torn southern Philippines, the country’s military chief said on Monday.
Troops found the three before midnight Sunday in a mountainous area of Jolo island after they were abandoned by their Abu Sayyaf captors, General Eduardo Ano said.
Mohammad Jumadil Rahim, Mohammad Ridzuan Bin Ismail and Fandy Bin Bakran were taken to a military hospital for treatment, Ano said, adding that their recovery meant there were no more Malaysian captives in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf.
The Malaysians were among a group seized from a tugboat in waters between the southern Philippines and Malaysia last July.
Last week two other Malaysians from the same tugboat were found by a Philippine patrol vessel drifting in a boat off Jolo.
The Abu Sayyaf, whose leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, have long engaged in kidnapping for ransom — often targeting foreigners.
In recent months they have taken to seizing sailors from ships in waters between the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Maritime security officials have warned that the region is in danger of a “Somalia-type” situation unless action is taken.
The International Maritime Bureau said in January the number of maritime kidnappings hit a 10-year high in 2016, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous.
General Ano credited the recovery of the three Malaysians to the pressure placed on the extremists by a military operation in Jolo.
However in the past, the mysterious releases of hostages have been linked to secret ransom payments.
Ano said the Abu Sayyaf are still holding seven Filipinos and at least 20 foreigners including Vietnamese, Indonesians and a Dutch birdwatcher.
Citing intelligence sources, he said the foreign hostages were “okay”.
The Abu Sayyaf, established with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network in the 1990s, last month, beheaded an elderly German yachtsman who was abducted last year after failing to extort ransom for him.