A BRITISH businessman and his Filipina wife were rescued yesterday by government forces after a firefight with Abu Sayyaf kidnappers in Parang town in Sulu.
The rescue of Allan and Wilma Hyrons, who were kidnapped on October 4, came a day after troops clashed with the bandit group in the nearby Indanan town, which led to the death of five Abu Sayyaf members, including two sub-leaders.
The Abu Sayyaf, which became notorious for beheading hostages, is still holding three Indonesians in Sulu.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said AFP chief Gen. Noel Clement warned the group to release its remaining hostages or the military “will employ its might to subdue these terrorists and ultimately end their menace.”
Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., chief of the 11th Infantry Division and head of the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu (JTF), said relentless operations against the Abu Sayyaf will continue.
“We will hunt you down one by one if you will not surrender. We will not stop until all of you are brought to justice,” he said.
The Hyrons couple was rescued by forces from the Army’s 2nd Special Forces Battalion at around 9 a.m. following a brief gunfight in Barangay Kaha in Parang, said the JTF.
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the military’s Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, said the Abu Sayyaf left the couple after 10 minutes of firefight with the troops.
“It was a running gun battle until the two (victims) were left behind. They cannot afford to take with them (the couple) so they scampered away to different directions,” said Sobejana.
There were no reported casualties during the firefight.
The Hyrons couple was later brought to a military camp where they were met by Vinluan.
Sobejana said the couple appeared to be in good condition.
The couple was abducted from their resort in Tukuran town in Zamboanga del Sur and then brought to Sulu where the Abu Sayyaf operates.
The couple also owns a school in Tukuran town.
Vinluan said the Abu Sayyaf was forced to hide the couple with minimum a number of guards after a series of engagements with government troops and were “driven to designated constriction area” where the victims were finally rescued.
“Our troops were able to close in on the Abu Sayyaf Group, and engaged them in a firefight. Overwhelmed by our forces, they withdrew from the site, allowing our soldiers to rescue the couple,” said Vinluan.
Sobejana said the rescue “is a big blow to their (Abu Sayyaf) morale.”
“They are demoralized so we are going to take advantage of this. We have to continue our security efforts,” he said.
Sobejana said the military is not discounting the possibility of “retaliatory” attacks by the Abu Sayyaf on “soft targets.” Thus, he appealed to the public to be vigilant and to report suspicious individuals.
“Anybody can be their targets with this setback they suffered,” said Sobejana.
On the Sunday clash, killed were Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders Sibih Pisih and Roger Raji, and members Saipal Reny, Melvin Reny and Taihal Sabtal.
JTF Sulu spokesman Lt. Col. Gerard Monfort said Pisih was behind the Abu Sayyaf’s kidnappings in waters between Tawi-Tawi and Sabah, Malaysia, and has a warrant of arrest for the massacre of 22 civilians in Talipao town, also in Sulu, in 2014.
Monfort said troops from 2nd Special Forces Battalion were on a combat operation in Barangay Silangkan in Indanan town when they encountered the Abu Sayyaf men, leading to a 30-minute gunfight.
Troops recovered at the scene the bodies of the five Abu Sayyaf men, along with an M653 rifle, a Barret sniper rifle and a cal 45 pistol.
“However, two Special Forces personnel were slightly injured during the armed encounter,” said Monfort of the soldiers who are recuperating at a military hospital in Jolo town.
Monfort also reported that an Abu Sayyaf member was killed in another firefight with troops from the Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion in Sitio Itum, Barangay Kabuntakas in Patikul town, also in Sulu on Saturday.
Monfort said the soldiers were also on combat operations in the area at around 2:40 p.m. when they clashed with a group of Abu Sayyaf members.
The 45-minute clash resulted in the death of one of the Abu Sayyaf men, identified only as Jailade. The firefight also left five soldiers and four Abu Sayyaf members injured.