Philippines rescues British couple from jihadists

In this undated handout photo released by Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM), British couple Wilma (L) and Allan Hyrons eat a meal at a military camp in Sulu island, after their rescue from Islamic State-linked militants. (AFP Photo)

Philippine soldiers on Monday rescued a British man and his wife from Islamic State-linked jihadists nearly two months after the couple were kidnapped from their beach resort in the nation's south, authorities said.

Troops recovered the pair after a firefight with gunmen from the Abu Sayyaf group on the restive southern island of Jolo, which is a stronghold of the kidnap-for-ransom gang that has been behind some of the worst attacks in the Philippines.

"There was a brief exchange of fire, but they later abandoned the couple after being overwhelmed by pursuing government forces," Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana told the media. 

Regional army spokesman Arvin Encinas said no ransom was paid. 

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed the rescue of the couple, saying "both Alan and Wilma Hyrons are safe and well, and being looked after by the Philippine authorities."

"We worked closely with the Government of the Philippines on Alan and Wilma's case over the last two months," he added in a statement.

Decades-long insurgency

Armed men abducted the couple on 4 October at their beach resort on the southern island of Mindanao, which makes up the southern third of the Philippines.

Muslim separatists have led a decades-long insurgency in the south of the Catholic-majority Philippines, which has led to the death of tens of thousands of people. 

While the government has negotiated peace with the largest group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), hard-line factions allied with the Islamic State (IS) group are not part of the accord.

IS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a Sunday mass in January at a Catholic cathedral on Jolo which killed 21 in the country's worst attack in years.

Authorities blamed the bombing on Abu Sayyaf, which in part funds its violence with ransom payments.

Dutch birdwatcher Ewold Horn, who was kidnapped in 2012 in the southern Philippines, was killed in May during a firefight between his Abu Sayyaf captors and the military. - AFP