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2 kidnapped Coast Guard men flee Abu Sayyaf amid military assault

, / 09:23 AM August 20, 2015
BIG GUNS. Army soldiers  are on high alert aboard military trucks towing howitzers for repositioning in Barangay Sta. Maria, Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay, on Friday. RAFFY LERMA

Army soldiers transport howitzers in Barangay Sta. Maria, Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay, in this file photo. The military pounded Abu Sayyaf with artillery in Indanan, Sulu, as soldiers rescued two kidnapped Coast Guard men. RAFFY LERMA/INQUIRER

The two Coast Guard men kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte, in May are free after they escaped from captivity in Sulu amid a military operation to rescue them, an official said Thursday.

SN1 Rod Pagaling and SN2 Gringo Villaluz are safe, said Navy Commander Roy Vincent Trinidad.

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Trinidad did not provide details but the announcement came after Wednesday’s massive operation in Indanan, Sulu, that reportedly left 15 Abu Sayyaf bandits dead.

The two coast guard personnel managed to escape during the two-hour gunbattle, said Army Colonel Alan Arrojado, head of the Joint Task Force Group Sulu.

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“They told me by phone that the militants panicked and fled in different directions after seeing that the army had come so close and had begun the assault,” Arrojado told The Associated Press by phone.

Earlier, Pagaling and Villaluz appealed to the government to help in their release.

READ: Abu Sayyaf captives urge gov’t to save them from beheading

They were abducted with Barangay Aliguay, Dapitan City, chair Rodolfo Boligao, on May 4. Aliguay is an island village in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte.

Boligao was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf and his body was found in Maimbung, Sulu, on August 11.

Philippine troops attacked an Abu Sayyaf militant stronghold on Wednesday to rescue the two kidnapped coast guard personnel and other hostages, sparking a clash in which up to 15 gunmen may have died, military officials said.

Arrojado said no one among the hundreds of military personnel was killed in the fierce two-hour gunbattle with more than 100 militants in a mountainous hinterland near Indanan town in Sulu province.

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Government forces fired artillery rounds to prevent other Muslim rebels from reinforcing the Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Sitio Marang, Barangay Buanza, the military said.

Navy Commander Roy Vincent Trinidad said Thursday that 15 bandits identified with Yasser Igasan and Alhabshi Misaya were killed in clashes with elements of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion under Lt. Col. Eugene Boquio.

“Reports from ground troops, intelligence units, civilians, and action agents” had it that at least 15 bandits had been killed,” said Arrojado, commander of the Task Force Sulu.

However, Trinidad said soldiers initially recovered only four bodies as of Thursday morning.

“Hopefully we’ll see more bodies,” Arrojado agreed.

“We have orders to continuously assault them and not give them any area where they can roam free,” Sulu military spokesman Capt. Anthony Bulao said.

READ: Abu Sayyaf beheads Dapitan village chair

A number of other hostages, including two Malaysians, are believed to be held by the militants in the jungles of Indanan.

A Dutch bird watcher kidnapped more than two years ago is believed to be held by another Abu Sayyaf faction in Sulu’s Patikul town.

The Abu Sayyaf, with about 400 gunmen split into several factions, is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations for deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom, and beheadings.

It is one of at least four small armed groups outside of a peace deal the government signed last year with the largest Muslim rebel group, the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in an attempt to settle a decades-long separatist insurrection by minority Muslims in the south of the largely Roman Catholic country. Julie Alipala

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TAGS: abu sayyaf, Army, beheading, Indanan, Scout Rangers, Sulu
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