Indonesian pair dodge bullets to make daring jungle escape from Filipino militants
Ismail and Mohammad Safyan were among seven tugboat crewmen who were abducted in June
Threatened with beheadings, two Indonesian sailors made a daring escape from Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines after almost two months of captivity. One was rescued by villagers who found him entangled in fishnets and the other picked up by Philippine troops on a village road, officials said on Thursday.
Their flights were a rare bright spot in a long and bloody military campaign to root out the militants who have gained notoriety with ransom kidnappings and beheadings. Indonesia’s senior security minister Wiranto welcomed the escapes as gifts for the country’s 71st Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday.
Ismail and Mohammad Safyan were among seven tugboat crewmen who were abducted near Philippine waters in June, part of the Abu Sayyaf’s kidnapping spree that captured some two dozen Indonesian sailors, Westerners and other Asians.
Ten of the hostages were freed earlier this year reportedly after ransoms were paid, but others remained in the hands of the militants who beheaded two Canadians in April and June.
On Wednesday, the two Indonesians escaped together on Jolo Island, an Abu Sayyaf jungle stronghold, but fled in separate direction as their captors chased them, said Major Filemon Tan, a regional military spokesman.
“They said they were fired upon when they escaped but were not hit,” Tan said.
Safyan, a sailor, was found by villagers floating and trapped in fishnets. Troops looking for other Indonesians saw Ismail, the chief officer of the tugboat Charles, on a nearby road, Tan said. He identified himself as a kidnap victim.
Photos released by the Philippine military showed the two men appearing in good health and being debriefed by army officials.
It is not uncommon for hostages to try to escape, but very few succeed because they are unfamiliar with terrain and don’t speak the local language.
“Hopefully the progress will be better in coming days since the Philippine government has seriously threatened the kidnappers through military and psychological pressures,” Wiranto, who uses a single name, told reporters at the state palace in Jakarta.
He called for prayers for the other hostages to gain freedom soon.
The Philippines says it has stepped up a military offensive against the militants after the beheadings of the two Canadians.
Sixteen other foreign hostages – nine Indonesians, five Malaysians, one Norwegian, and a Dutchman – are still held by the Muslim extremist group in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation’s south, where Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades. At least five Filipinos are also being held.
Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed in May to carry out coordinated patrols following a series of kidnappings and piracy attacks that have undermined commerce in the Celebes Sea, where their sea borders overlap.