2 Malaysian Abu Sayyaf hostages rescued in Sulu

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippine Navy rescued two Malaysian hostages of the Abu Sayyaf on Thursday, March 23, according to the military. 

"A Fleet-Marine team composed of sailors and marines under the Joint Task Force Sulu successfully rescued two Malaysian hostages, who were held captive by the Abu Sayyaf Group, at 2 am today in the waters off Kalinggalang Caluang near Pata island, Sulu Province," said Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).  

Malaysians Tayudin Anjut, 45, and Abdurahim Bin Sumas, 62, were held by the local terrorist group for 8 months. They were immediately brought to a hospital in Sulu for check-up and interview. 

"The... kidnap victims are weak and in a sickly state," Wesmincom chief Major General Carlito said in a statement.

They were among the 5 Malaysian crewmen of Tugboat Serudung 3 who were kidnapped in July 2016 off the coast of Lahad Datu in Sabah.

Petinglay said the marines launched the rescue operation after they received information that the hostages were tagging along Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Alhabsy Misaya and 30 followers who were hiding at a mangrove area in Barangay Karudong in Kalinggalang Caluang, Sulu.

Galvez said the military is now getting a lot of help from communities. 

"Wesmincom troops are continuing pursuit against the kidnap for ransom groups to rescue the remaining kidnap victims and continue the pressure on the Abu Sayyaf to release their hostages and possibly for them to surrender to authorities," Galvez said. 

Their recovery followed a Philippine military operation against the kidnappers on a nearby island early last month that left 8 gunmen dead, Galvez said.

The Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history, have been kidnapping people for ransom for decades.

In recent months they have taken to seizing sailors from vessels plying the waters between the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

Maritime security officials have warned that the region is in danger of a "Somalia-type" situation unless action is taken.

The International Maritime Bureau said in January the number of maritime kidnappings hit a 10-year high in 2016, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous.

The Abu Sayyaf, established with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network in the 1990s, are believed to still be holding 23 foreigners and 6 Filipinos, military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla told Agence France-Presse.

They include Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese captives as well as a Dutch bird watcher abducted in 2012, he added. 

Last month the group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State movement, beheaded an elderly German yachtsman abducted last year after failing to extort ransom for him. – With a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com