Indonesian hostage dies in Philippine army, militant battle

One of the five Indonesians held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines has been killed during a clash with troops

La Baa was shot during an army operation against the Islamic State-linked group in Sulu province’s Patikul town, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.

“On behalf of the government, I would like to express my deep condolences to the family of the victim,” Marsudi told reporters.

She said her ministry is working with the Philippine government to ensure the safety of the four remaining Indonesians held by the Abu Sayyaf.

A Philippine police report said the encounter occurred between security forces and Abu Sayyaf militants led by Majan Sahidjuan, also known as Apo Mike.

The five hostages were among eight Indonesians who were fishing on a Malaysian boat that was seen entering Philippine waters on Jan. 16.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement then that the boat was seen reentering Malaysian waters later the same day with only three people on board. It said the three men told authorities that suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen took the other five fisherman, including the captain.

It was the latest in a series of kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf militants and came a day after Philippine forces rescued Muhammad Farhan, an Indonesian who had been held in the southern jungles of Sulu province for nearly four months.

The Abu Sayyaf, which is on U.S. and Philippine lists of terrorist organizations, is notorious for bombings, extortion and kidnappings for ransom in the volatile southern Philippines. It has been weakened by years of U.S.-backed Philippine offensives but remains a security threat.

Government data show 39 Indonesians were kidnapped and held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants between 2016 and 2019. Of the total, one hostage died while the others were freed.

Most of the victims were abducted while fishing in the waters off Sabah on Malaysia’s eastern coast.

Many Indonesians work in Sabah for Malaysian fishing companies. The Indonesian government has urged its citizens not to sail in the waters off Sabah because of security concerns.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.