Hostages unhurt in clash

KOTA KINABALU: Four Indonesian hostages abducted from Sabah earlier this year were unhurt in the latest gunfight between their Abu Sayyaf captors and the Philippine military in Jolo.

Regional intelligence sources said the gunmen managed to escape the pursuing marines who killed two Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders Hatib Munap and Sansibar Bencio during the gun battle in Panamao in the southern Philippine island on Friday.

The sources said 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 pressure the notorious militant group responsible for kidnappings and beheadings.

The five fishermen on a Sabah-based trawler were abducted by six gunmen dressed in black overalls in waters near Tambisan, off Lahad Datu, in January.

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

According to sources, the militants Munap and Sansibar, who were killed in the latest battle, were sub-leaders of the Abu Sayyaf and had been linked to kidnappings in the Philippines as well as Sabah.

The regional intelligence sources also said there had been a few rounds of negotiation for the freedom of the four Indonesians since Manila ordered the wipe-out of the militant group.

Negotiations have been tricky because the Abu Sayyaf captors have failed to keep their side of the bargain for the release of the hostages.

In April, the kidnap victims were allegedly “freed” after payments were made but another group working on their release took them captive.

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

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

The Philippine military has been successful in eliminating the group’s members with the biggest success involving the killing of seven Abu Sayyaf militants 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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