A file photo of Abu Sayyaf militants in the interior of Jolo Island in the southern Philippines. Photo: Reuters/Philippine National Red Cross via Reuters TV

A Dutch birdwatcher held by ISIS-linked militants was killed Friday during a gun battle between his kidnappers and soldiers in the southern Philippines, according to the military, which said he was shot by his captors as he tried to escape.

Ewold Horn had been held since 2012 by the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group and was fatally wounded as soldiers fought a 90-minute battle with the jihadists on Jolo island, their stronghold.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed Horn died in an “exchange of fire,” adding that it was investigating the exact circumstances of his death.

Philippine Brigadier General Divino Rey Pabayo said in a statement, “Horn was shot by one of his guards when he tried to escape from the Abu Sayyaf during this morning’s gunfight.”

The southern Philippines is home to numerous armed groups, several of which are linked to the decades-old insurgency aiming to create a Muslim homeland in the Christian-majority nation’s deep south.

Horn was on an expedition to photograph rare birds on the remote island of Tawi-Tawi in the southern Philippines when he was abducted by unknown gunmen and turned over to Abu Sayyaf.

Horn was taken along with Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, who escaped in 2014 during a gun battle between soldiers and his captors.

“We express our deep condolences to Mr Horn’s family and loved ones,” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

“We vow to pursue his killers to the ends of the earth until they are brought to justice.”

Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for some of the worst terror attacks in Philippine history, including repeated kidnappings of foreigners, who are often held for huge ransoms.

– with reporting by AFP

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