MANILA – A Dutch birdwatcher who spent seven years as a hostage in the Philippines was on the brink of being liberated when he was killed in the crossfire during a battle between radical Islamist militants and soldiers on Friday, the authorities said.
Ewold Horn, 59, was held by 30 members of the Abu Sayyaf group on the island of Sulu when they were attacked by soldiers in a fight that lasted an hour and a half.
"Horn was shot by one of his guards when he tried to escape from Abu Sayyaf," said Brigadier General Divino Rey Pabayo Jr., Commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu.
Soldiers regained their body and that of Abu Sayyaf's leader Radullan Sahiron's second wife, Mingayan Sahiron after the fight. The organization is believed to have links to the extremist Islamic state group.
The military estimated that six militants were killed and 12 wounded, while eight soldiers were wounded and shot.
Horn was kidnapped in 2012 along with the Swiss birdwatcher Lorenzo Vinciguerra, but the latter fled in 2014.
Kidnapping for ransom is a common practice among the infamous Abu Sayyaf, which has been listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. Various abductions, bombings and killings have been referred to it, most recently a cathedral bombing in Jolo earlier this year.
While the Islamic state is weakening in the Middle East, analysts say their presence has only grown in Southeast Asia. Three suspects were arrested in Malaysia on Thursday, one of which was reported to be on its way to Syria through Egypt. Both foreign and local Islamic state-affiliated militants were involved in the attempted occupation of the Philippine town of Marawi in 2017. Philippine forces cleared this city of Islamist militants in 2017. It is still a ghost town.]  Abu Sayyaf, founded in 1991, was previously associated with al-Qaeda before adapting to the rival Islamic state. Its continued existence, despite many years of military offenses, demonstrates the difficulty of stamping extremist thought in the southern Philippines, which is suffering from poverty and conflict.
Lt. Secretary General Arnel Dela Vega, head of the armed forces in the southwestern region, extended sympathy to the Horns family.
"We condemn the inhumane acts of Abu Sayyaf members against their prisoners and innocent in Sulu," he said in a statement. "From our side, we promise to maintain our intensive campaign to defeat [them]."
In the days that led to Horns death, the group was subjected to a focused military operation on the island. The government earlier this week claimed that the militants were "abandoned by relentless offenses" that have taken place since May 25.
In 2001, Abu Sayyaf had a high profile kidnapping involving three US hostages. Two of them were killed – one, Guillermo Sobero, in a memory. The other, Martin Burnham, also died during a rescue operation.