Gunmen stand behind three foreign men (not pictured) and a Filipina (not pictured) who were kidnapped last month in the southern Philippines. Photo: AFP

South Korean seized by Abu Sayyaf militants found dead in Philippines after dying through illness

Hong Noi-sung was found in a sack in Sulu province

An elderly South Korean man who was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines 10 months ago has been found dead apparently due to an illness, military officials said on Sunday.

The body of Hong Noi-sung was found in a sack late on Saturday on a roadside in Indanan town in Sulu province, where the militants have been holding several foreign and Filipino kidnapping victims in their jungle bases in the mountains, according to army Brigadier General Alan Arrojado and the police.

An initial investigation showed that the militants brought down the remains of the 74-year-old from their jungle encampment after he died from an unspecified illness, Arrojado said. There was no sign of any wound caused by gunfire or bladed weapon in his body, according to a police report.

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Hong was abducted by at least five gunmen disguised as policemen from his house in Roseller Lim town in southern Zamboanga Sibugay province in January. The kidnappers tried to kidnap his son, who fought back and managed to escape, police said.

A government anti-terrorism official said by phone that the militants initially demanded a ransom of 500 million pesos (HK$235 million), but later agreed to drastically reduce the amount as Hong fell ill and was often transported on a horse because he was too weak to walk.

The ransom demand was made a few weeks after the abduction through telephone calls to his family and through Facebook, where the militants posted a picture of the frail Korean sitting on the ground without a shirt and surrounded by heavily-armed masked men standing in front of a black flag with Arabic words, said the official.

The Facebook account under the name of a suspected militant, who warned that the Korean was “very sick,” had since been taken down, he said.

It was not clear if any amount was handed to the militants.

The kidnapping prompted South Korea to issue a travel advisory, warning its citizens to stay away from southern Mindanao region due to threats of abductions and other crimes.

The al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organisation for deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and extortion, has been weakened by years of US-backed military offensives.

Without any known major sources of foreign funding, the militants have turned to kidnappings and extortion to survive.

They are still holding several hostages, including a Dutch bird watcher who was kidnapped more than three years ago in nearby Tawi Tawi province, two Malaysians and a Japanese. They have also been suspected of kidnapping two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino from a marina on southern Samal Island in September.