JAKARTA – Ten Indonesian sailors held hostage by Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants returned home Sunday after being freed in the southern Philippines, less than a week after the gunmen beheaded a Canadian captive.
About five weeks after being abducted, the 10 tugboat crew turned up outside the house of the provincial governor on the remote Philippine island of Jolo.
They flew back to Jakarta later the same day, arriving on a private plane at an air force base before being driven away in a minibus without speaking to reporters.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said they would undergo medical checks before being sent home.
“Our prayers have been answered,” Rahmat Mansyur, brother of freed hostage Wawan Saputra, told AFP in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province.
“A few days ago when the kidnappers beheaded a hostage we were very worried, but now we heard he is safe we feel so blessed.”
Officials did not say if any ransom was paid for the 10 Indonesians. Abu Sayyaf does not normally free hostages unless a ransom is paid.
There has been a recent upsurge of kidnappings in the strife-torn southern Philippines, and the Indonesians’ release came just six days after Abu Sayyaf beheaded Canadian tourist John Ridsdel, for whom they had demanded a US$21 million ransom.
Authorities said the group is still holding at least 11 foreign hostages â€“ four sailors from Indonesia and four others from Malaysia, a Canadian tourist, a Norwegian resort owner and a Dutch birdwatcher.
‘Hope and pray’
Provincial governor Abdusakur Tan Jnr on Jolo hailed the “good news” of the men’s recovery after they were brought to his home by unidentified men during a heavy midday downpour.
On learning who they were, the politician’s guards let them in and they were fed before being turned over to the police.
“We hope and pray that the others may also walk freely away from their captors,” Tan said.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino vowed Wednesday to neutralise the militants after the Canadian retiree’s head was left outside a government building in Jolo.
The fate of the other hostages remained unknown even as artillery and military aircraft bombed suspected Abu Sayyaf positions on Jolo in the past week.
The small group of militants is based on Jolo and nearby Basilan island and is accused of kidnappings and deadly bombings.
The 10 Indonesian sailors were abducted off the southern Philippines on March 26 as their tugboat pulled a barge from Borneo island.
Filipino authorities later described the kidnappers as members of the Abu Sayyaf, a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic country that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since the 1970s.
Abu Sayyaf is believed to have just a few hundred militants but has withstood repeated US-backed military offensives against it, using the mountainous jungle terrain of Jolo and nearby islands to its advantage.
Abu Sayyaf gangs have earned many millions of dollars from kidnapping foreigners and locals since the early 1990s.
Although its leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, analysts say they are more focused on lucrative kidnappings-for-ransom than on setting up a caliphate.
Jakarta will host a meeting of foreign ministers and military commanders from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on Thursday aimed at discussing joint naval patrols where the sailors were abducted. â€” AFP