S. Korean kidnapped by militants found dead in southern Philippines, apparently due to illness

An elderly South Korean man who was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines 10 months ago has been found dead apparently due to an illness, police and military officials said Sunday.

The body of Noi-seong Hong was found in a sack late Saturday on a roadside in Indanan town in Sulu province, where the militants have been holding several foreign and Filipino kidnapping victims in their jungle bases in the mountains, according to army Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado and the police.

An initial investigation showed the militants brought down the remains of the 74-year-old from their jungle encampment after he died from an unspecified illness, Arrojado said.

The Korean was abducted by about five gunmen from his house in Roseller Lim town in southern Zamboanga Sibugay province in January. The kidnappers also tried to kidnap his son, who fought back and managed to escape, police said.

A government anti-terrorism official told The Associated Press by telephone that the militants initially demanded a ransom of 500 million pesos ($10.6 million), but later agreed to drastically reduce the amount as Hong fell ill and was often transported on a horse because he was too weak to walk.

It was not immediately clear if any amount was handed to the militants, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization for deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and extortion, has been weakened by years of U.S.-backed military offensives.

Without any known major sources of foreign funding, the militants have turned to kidnappings and extortion to survive.

They are still holding several hostages, including a Dutch bird watcher who was kidnapped more than three years ago in nearby Tawi Tawi province, two Malaysians and a Japanese. They have also been suspected of kidnapping two Canadians, a Norwegian man and a Filipino woman from a marina on southern Samal Island in September.