Philippines rescues British man, wife held by Abu Sayyaf

(CNA) – Soldiers in the southern Philippines rescued a British man and a Filipino woman nearly two months after their capture from members of an militant group, the army said on Monday (Nov 25), after their captors fled during a military operation.

The couple, Allan and Wilma Hyrons, were abducted at gunpoint on Oct 4 from the resort they ran in a neighbouring province and were now being looked after at a military camp.

A photograph issued by the army showed the couple unharmed and eating a meal.

The kidnappers were members of Abu Sayyaf, a group that operates in the Sulu archipelago and has extremist factions loyal to the Islamic State group, and linked to at least five suicide bombings in the region in the past 16 months.

Troops rescued the pair after a firefight with gunmen from the militant group on the restive southern island of Jolo, which is a stronghold of the kidnap-for-ransom gang that has been behind some of the worst attacks in the Philippines.

“There was a brief exchange of fire, but they later abandoned the couple after being overwhelmed by pursuing government forces,” Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana told AFP.”

Regional army spokesman Arvin Encinas said no ransom was paid.

The British embassy in Manila confirmed the rescue of Alan and Wilma Hyrons, saying in a statement “we extend our gratitude to the government and authorities of the Philippines”.

Abu Sayyaf is much feared for its banditry, piracy and kidnap-for-ransom business, with targets that include Europeans and seamen from Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Some hostages were held for years and beheaded when ransom was not paid, among them a German and two Canadians.

Dutch birdwatcher Ewold Horn, who was kidnapped in 2012 in the southern Philippines, was killed in May during a firefight between his Abu Sayyaf captors and the military.

The Philippines does not disclose when demands for their release are met.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has poured more troops into the region to try to wipe out Abu Sayyaf. The group remains influential among local clans and a formidable opponent, with a small and well-equipped network that operates in the jungles of Basilan and Jolo islands.

On Saturday, the army said it had killed a man it believed to be central to the group’s planning of suicide bombings and its coordination with Islamic State.