World Bulletin / News Desk
The armed forces’ Western Mindanao Command confirmed that the hostages were rescued early in the morning in the waters off the predominantly Muslim island province of Sulu -- an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
“They were rescued after eight months in captivity in a focused military operation launched by combined elements of the Philippine Marines," Command spokeswoman Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay said in a statement.
The two sailors and three other crew had been seized from a tugboat in mid-July 2016 off the Philippines’ troubled south, a region where Abu Sayyaf-linked kidnap-for-ransom gangs are known to operate.
The kidnappers had reportedly been demanding P100 million Philippine pesos (nearly $2 million) for their release.
The two rescued were identified as Fandy Bin Bakran, 45, and Abdul Rahim Bin Summas, 62 -- who were transported to a hospital for debriefing and medical checkup at Camp General Teodulfo Bautista in Sulu’s capital Jolo.
They are due to be airlifted to Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City where they are expected to be presented to media.
Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., the Command’s chief, described the kidnap victims as being weak and in a sickly state when rescued by troops.
Since 1991, the group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion. It has pledged allegiance to Daesh.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed embarrassment over an increase in the number of hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf, saying the figure exceeded 30.
Of the captives, more than 20 are foreigners-- among them nationals of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Netherlands.