MANILA, Philippines – Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants stopped a truck at gunpoint and abducted nine construction workers Monday but two escaped and sought help from authorities, military and police officials said.
Army troops were deployed to find and rescue the workers, who were traveling on a water delivery truck when the militants stopped them in a remote village in Sumisip town on the island province of Basilan, regional military spokeswoman Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela said.
Muyuela said the military was working with local officials to gather more details about the missing workers and locate them.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 gunmen split into a few factions in Basilan and outlying islands, originally projected itself as a hardline armed group fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the south, home of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic country.
Military officials, however, dismiss the gunmen as bandits involved mainly in kidnappings for ransom, beheadings, extortion and deadly bombings.
The United States has blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf, which has attacked Americans in the south, as a terrorist organization. A Philippine court designated the brutal band last week as a terrorist organization, the first to be so outlawed in the country's rarely-used anti-terrorism law.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the proscription of the Abu Sayyaf will help the government prosecute not only its members but also their supporters and financiers.
The U.S. welcomed the Philippines' continued efforts to combat terrorism. A State Department spokesperson, Anna Richey-Allen, said the terrorist designation "gives the Philippines a greater range of tools to help them combat terrorism."
AP writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.