ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – The decapitated bodies of two Vietnamese crewmen abducted last year by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants were found Wednesday on the southern Philippine island of Basilan, the Philippine military said, in a gruesome end to the sailors' ordeal.
The bodies of Hoang Thong and Hoang Va Hai were found by villagers in the town of Sumisip, said the military's Western Mindanao Command. Pictures showed their decapitated heads beside their bodies.
The two were among six crewmen of the Vietnamese cargo vessel MV Royal 16 taken by gunmen last November in seawaters off Basilan amid a wave of sea assaults that have alarmed the region's leaders.
One of the six crewmen was rescued in June. Three others remain captive.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., the military's regional commander, condoled with the families of the slain victims, saying "we grieve as we strongly condemn the barbaric beheading." The military and police have been exhausting all efforts to rescue the kidnap victims, he added.
"In no way does the Abu Sayyaf group represent our Muslim brothers who are true followers of Islam," Galvez said.
Officials said the bodies will undergo forensic examination as they coordinate with the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila. Soldiers and policemen are getting more details about the incident, they added.
In February, gunmen attacked another Vietnamese cargo ship off the Philippines' southern tip, killing a Vietnamese crewman and abducting six others, including the vessel's captain, the Philippine coast guard and the ship's owner said.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts have struggled to deal with a wave of attacks by the Abu Sayyaf and allied gunmen who target tugboats and cargo ships along their busy sea borders.
The three countries launched coordinated maritime patrols last month to intensify their fight against Islamic militants, piracy, kidnapping, terrorism and other crimes in regional waters.