Hostages snatched from Sabah unhurt in latest skirmish between Abu Sayyaf and Philippines military

KOTA KINABALU: Four Indonesian hostages abducted from Sabah earlier this year are unhurt as their Abu Sayyaf captors clashed with pursuing Philippines military forces in Jolo.

Regional intelligence sources said the gunmen managed to escape the pursuing Philippines marines who killed Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders Hatib Munap and Sansibar Bencio during the gunfight at Panamao in the southern Philippines island of Jolo on Friday (Nov 20).

The sources said that the four kidnap victims – Arsyad Dahlan, 41; Riswanto Hayano, 27; Edi Lawalopo, 53; and Syarizal Kastamiran, 29; – were not hurt in the clash as Manila continued to pour pressure on the notorious militant group responsible for numerous kidnappings and beheadings.

Five fishermen were abducted from a Sabah-based trawler by six gunmen dressed in black overalls in waters near Tambisan, off Lahad Datu, in January this year.

However, the fifth hostage, identified as La Baa, 32, was killed in a firefight between his Abu Sayyaf captors and Philippines security forces on Sept 28.

The sources said Munap and Sansibar, who were killed in the latest firefight, were sub-leaders of Abu Sayyaf and have been linked to kidnappings in the Philippines and Sabah.

Regional intelligence sources said that there has been little negotiation for the freedom of the four remaining hostages who have been forced to follow their captors who are on the run since Manila ordered the militant group to be wiped out.

Negotiations have also proven tricky with sources claiming that the Abu Sayyaf captors failed to keep their side of the bargain and release hostages after they were paid off in April.

At the time, sources said intermediaries of Indonesian hostages' families had settled the demands of a key Abu Sayyaf kidnap group led by sub-commander Mike Apo, who released them to Abu Sayyaf-linked middlemen.

The hostages have since been shifted around and held captive by various Abu Sayyaf groups amid the military operations.

The Philippines military has been successful in eliminating the group’s members, with one of its biggest successes involving the killing of seven Abu Sayyaf militants who on their way to Sabah during the early hours of Nov 3.

Regional intelligence sources said the seven belonged to the notorious kidnap-for-ransom group of the Jolo-based Sawadjaan family.

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