6 Dec 2014

Swiss hostage escapes from Islamist rebels in Philippines

Wildlife photographer Lorenzo Vinciguerra flees his Abu Sayyaf captors after killing a guard with a machete.

Lorenzo Vinciguerra (Reuters)

Mr Vinciguerra, 49, seized the chance to escape during a gun battle between the insurgents holding him and government troops on the island of Sulu, said Colonel Allan Arrojado, commander of the army’s Joint Task Group.

The Swiss national was wounded on his left cheek as he wrestled a machete from a man guarding him, before getting hold of it and slashing the man on the neck, killing him.

The hostage made a dash for freedom and ended up being picked up by the Philippines armed forces after more than two years in the hands of Abu Sayyaf, one of several rebel factions fighting in the Muslim south of the largely Christian country.

Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry said Vinciguerra was in good health considering the circumstances. He remained in the custody of the Philippines armed forces and would return to Switzerland as soon as possible.

Speaking from a hospital bed, he said: “I’m very thankful for everybody, the civilians and the military, who were so kind to bring me to the safe place here and get treated now kindly, so I’m very happy here now and not in the forest anymore.

“I expect, I want to spend Christmas with my family, that’s my main wish. So I’m in good hands and I trust them to do a good job, so I’ve no exceptions because I know they do it right.”

The military said five militants were killed and seven wounded in the firefight.

Colonel Arrojado said: “He is the first one we rescued and so far we’ve heard that there was a lot of casualties on the Abu Sayyaf side since our operations yesterday until this morning , which was followed by an aerial bombing by the air force.”

Mr Vinciguerra said he tried to convince a fellow hostage, Dutchman Ewold Horn, to join him in his escape, but the 52-year-old declined.

Ewold Horn (Reuters)

He said Mr Horn “is doing okay – he has back problem, tooth problem and he didn’t feel comfortable with the situation to join me”.

“It was his decision not to come. I asked him minutes before he left to join me and he decided not to join, he wanted to stay there. I know they will treat him good because I know he’s now the only one left.”

There was no immediate word on Mr Horn’s whereabouts.

The two wildlife photographers were taken captive in Tawi-Tawi province as they were sailing on a bird-watching trip in February 2012.

Abu Sayyaf is holding several other foreign and Filipino hostages. The Philippines military launched an offensive against the rebels in October after they released two German nationals seized in April.