Army special forces attacked an Abu Sayyaf jungle encampment Wednesday in the southern Philippines and captured two militants believed to be holding three Filipino hostages seized by the al-Qaida-linked group, military officials said.
There was no sign of the three hostages at the encampment, which came under attack at dawn near Basilan Island's Sumisip town. Three other men taken into custody by the troops were identified by local officials as farmers roaming the hinterland and would be freed, army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said.
A recently captured Abu Sayyaf member led the soldiers to the encampment near Upper Cabengbeng village, rousing the militants from sleep. About 10 of them managed to escape while two were captured with about five assault rifles along with ammunition, Cabunoc said.
The three hostages being held for ransom include a child and two businessmen separately kidnapped in recent months. A fourth captive, Filipino engineer Virgilio Fernandez, managed to escape from his captors last week, and authorities have handed him over to his family.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 fighters with more than 300 firearms, has been blamed for numerous kidnappings, beheadings and bombings. It remains without a central leader after several of its top commanders were killed or captured in U.S.-backed Philippine offensives in recent years. Its three biggest factions are based in Basilan and the nearby island provinces of Sulu and Tawi Tawi.