November 25, 2019 / 5:39 AM / 13 days ago

British hostages safe after Philippine troops clash with Islamist rebels

MANILA (Reuters) - Soldiers in the southern Philippines rescued a British man and woman from members of an Islamist militant group, the army said on Monday, after their captors fled during a military operation.

The couple, Allan and Wilma Hyrons, were abducted at gunpoint by members of the Abu Sayyaf group on Oct. 4 from the resort they ran in a neighboring province.

The Philippine army said they were now being looked after at a military camp, and issued a photograph of the couple, unharmed and eating a meal.

“I am pleased to confirm that both Alan and Wilma Hyrons are safe and well, and being looked after by the Philippine authorities,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“We worked closely with the Government of the Philippines on Alan and Wilma’s case over the last two months. I am very grateful for their tremendous efforts. We are in particular grateful to the Armed Forces for their courage throughout a difficult operation which resulted in Alan and Wilma’s release.”

Abu Sayyaf operates in the Sulu archipelago and has factions loyal to Islamic State that have been linked to at least five suicide bombings in the region in the past 16 months.

The group is much feared for its banditry, piracy and kidnap-for-ransom business, with targets that include Europeans as well as seamen from Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Some hostages were held for years and beheaded when ransom was not paid, among them a German and two Canadians.

The Philippines does not disclose when demands for their release are met.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sent more troops into the region to try to wipe out Abu Sayyaf. The group remains influential among local clans and a formidable opponent, with a small and well-equipped network that operates in the jungles of Basilan and Jolo islands.

On Saturday, the army said it had killed a man it believed to be central to the group’s planning of suicide bombings and its coordination with Islamic State.

Writing by Martin Petty; Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in London; Editing by Kim Coghill and Alison Williams

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