Indonesian escapes from Abus
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—An Indonesian sailor escaped from his Abu Sayyaf captors in Sulu province early Wednesday by swimming out to sea after the bandits threatened to behead him, a military spokesperson said.
Residents of Bual village in Luuk, Jolo Island, spotted and secured Mohammad T. Sofyan floating off the shore after he escaped under cover of darkness, said Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson for the military’s Western Mindanao Command.
Abu Sayyaf bandits captured Sofyan, 28, and six other crew members of the Indonesian tugboat TB Charles 001 as it was passing through waters off southern Philippine islands on June 23.
On June 25, the bandits freed six other crewmen, who arrived at their home port in Samarinda in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan on Borneo Island.
“We were told he managed to escape by running and swimming to the sea,” Tan said, adding that Sofyan had said the bandits were about to execute him when he escaped.
Caught in fishnets
Bual villagers found Sofyan floating and caught in fishnets along the shore of a mangrove area, Tan said.
He was in good health, said Dr. Raden Ikbala of Sulu Integrated Provincial Hospital. “He is OK, healthy, but appeared traumatized.”
Sofyan was to be turned over to the provincial police office on Jolo for documentation, debriefing and repatriation.
Ikbala said Sofyan had claimed that he and another hostage escaped as their captors were asleep at 1 a.m. on Wednesday.
Tan said troops were trying to find the other Indonesian.
“We have no information on the other captives, but troops in the area were ordered to use all means to locate and rescue them,” he said.
MNLF claims credit
A faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari claimed it rescued Sofyan.
“The MNLF is operating in the second district (of Sulu) since July 28, and we have about 3,000 forces that are running after the Abu Sayyaf group. This force is [led] by one Commander Julhabri,” said Samsula Adju, chair of the MNLF Global Roving Diplomacy and Peace Advocacy.
“All we know is that this Indonesian fled while we are pursuing his captors,” Adju said, adding that Sofyan’s captors were led by Alhabshi Misaya.
Adju said Misaya tried to snatch Sofyan back, “but it’s too late for them because our people were able to bring the Indonesian down to the barangay and later to the police.”
Ikbala said a Filipino teacher was kidnapped by still unknown men as she was on her way to Madjunun Elementary School in Jolo town on Tuesday morning.
He identified the kidnap victim only as Sandra, wife of a Marine.
Tan said 16 foreigners—a Dutch, a Norwegian, nine Indonesians and five Malaysians—and eight Filipinos were still being held by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
The bandits had beheaded two Canadian hostages after their government refused to hand over ransom, but they freed their Filipino woman companion earlier this year.
Known for their ruthlessness, the Abu Sayyaf has been turning its attention to vessels passing through busy shipping lanes in the southern waters as security along coasts has been tightened.
Last week, President Duterte ordered the military to destroy the Abu Sayyaf, saying that if it failed to do so, the Philippines risked being “contaminated” by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Iraq and Syria.
The Abu Sayyaf has sworn allegiance to IS, although the military says the bandits are merely riding on the popularity of IS to the international jihadist community.
A total of 24 Indonesians have been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf this year, highlighting weak security in the Celebes Sea that borders Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Ten of the hostages were freed after ransoms were reportedly paid.
Indonesian authorities have said piracy in the Celebes Sea, a major sea-lane for the world’s top thermal coal exporter, could reach levels previously seen in Somalia.
Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed in May to carry out coordinated patrols. The three countries are concerned the kidnappings, piracy and other crime could undermine commerce in the region.
Analysts say $40 billion worth of cargo passes through the southern waters every year, including supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait. With reports from Jerome Aning in Manila and AP
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