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MANILA, Philippines – A second Indonesian sailor escaped from Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines on the same day his colleague swam to freedom after almost two months in captivity, officials said Thursday.
Ismail, the chief officer of a tugboat whose seven crewmen were abducted near Philippine waters in June, was recovered by troops Wednesday along a road in southern Jolo Island's Luuk town, said Maj. Filemon Tan, a regional military spokesman.
"Military troops were scouring the area looking for other Indonesian hostages when they found Ismail, who identified himself to the military as a kidnap victim," Tan said.
Mohammad Safyan, another sailor from the same tugboat named Charles, ran and swam to freedom earlier Wednesday after the militants threatened to behead him, Tan said. Villagers in Luuk found him floating and trapped in fishnets along shore in a mangrove area.
Tan said the men escaped together, but fled in separate ways as their captors chased them.
It is not uncommon for hostages to try to escape, but very few succeed in such daring missions because they are unfamiliar with terrain and don't speak the local language.
Sixteen other foreign hostages — nine Indonesians, five Malaysians, one Norwegian, and a Dutchman — are still held by the violent Muslim extremist group that has become notorious for ransom kidnappings and beheadings of hostages in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. At least five Filipinos are also being held captive.
Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed in May to carry out coordinated patrols following a series of kidnappings of Indonesian sailors and piracy attacks that have undermined commerce in the region.
A total of 24 Indonesian crewmen of tugboats and barges have been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf this year, highlighting weak security in the Celebes Sea that borders Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Ten of the hostages were freed after ransoms were reportedly paid.
The Philippines says it has stepped up a military offensive against the militants, who earlier this year beheaded two Canadian hostages.
Washington and Manila list the Abu Sayyaf, which has more than 400 fighters, as a terrorist organization.