A Vietnamese sailor held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants for nine months in the southern Philippines has been rescued by government forces, the military said Monday.
Naval counter-terrorism troops under a military joint task force rescued Do Trung Hieu Sunday evening in the rebel’s jungle-clad stronghold on Basilan island, about 1,500 km (875 miles) south of Manila, officials said.
“The rescue was a result of the maximized conduct of intelligence operations and the successful airstrike mission launched by our troops on the ground,” task force group commander Col. Juvymax Uy told reporters.
“Do Trung Hieu was rescued by troops as the bandits were forced to leave their stronghold, which was being targeted and overrun by our operating troops,” he said.
Hieu has been brought to military headquarters in the south and has undergone medical tests. So far, he is said to be in remarkable condition despite his ordeal, officials said.
Hieu, 33, and five other crew members of the M/V Royal 16 were seized by an Abu Sayyaf faction led by commanders Alvin Yusop, Alhabsy Misaya and Radzmil Jannatual while passing through waters near Basilan in November 2016, military officials said.
In June, another captive Hoang Vo, 22, was wounded as he escaped from his captors. The following month, however, troops recovered the bodies of Hoang Trung Thong and Hong Van Hai, who were decapitated.
Since then, an intensified military crackdown led to the death of Misaya.
Hieu’s rescue leaves 18 hostages in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf in the southern region, 14 of whom are foreigners, according to the military. The gunmen beheaded a German captive earlier this year and two Canadians last year after their governments rejected ransom demands.
On Sunday, the military seized two key Abu Sayyaf encampments where they found several improvised bombs.
Military southern command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said the government offensives would continue “to neutralize the remaining Abu Sayyaf bandits, who are on the run now.”
Last week, the military said it killed Abu Sayyaf leader Salvador Muktadil, who was linked to several high-profile abductions, including the 2013 kidnapping of a Taiwanese tourist in Malaysia.
Military officials described the successive deaths of the Abu Sayyaf leaders as a setback for the group which has splintered into factions, including one led by Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged Islamic State (IS) leader in the Philippines.
Hapilon, backed by fighters from the local Maute gang and an undetermined number of fighters from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, seized the southern city of Marawi on May 23.
President Rodrigo Duterte has placed the entire southern region under military rule, but almost 100 days of intense clashes and air bombardments have failed to dislodge the group from Marawi, a once prosperous city of more than 200,000 that has been transformed into a virtual wasteland.
Military allies the United States and Australia have been providing intelligence help, while neighbors Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have vowed to intensify cooperation to stop the spread of IS-inspired militancy across regional borders.
As of Sunday, the military said 583 militants and 129 soldiers have been killed along with 45 civilians, while dozens are believed held hostage, including a Catholic priest.
The military also reported on Monday that an Abu Sayyaf faction, numbering about 100, attacked several homes in the remote area of Maluso town in Basilan at the break of dawn, killing nine villagers and wounding 10 others. The gunmen burned at least four homes and a day-care center, officials said.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.