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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Abu Sayyaf Militants Free 10 Indonesian Hostages

Freed captives were Indonesian tugboat crew captured in March; unclear if ransom was paid

MANILA - Ten Indonesian tugboat crewmen held by the Abu Sayyaf terror gang in the southern Philippines were freed unharmed Sunday after the kidnappers came under intensifying military pressure following the murder of a Canadian hostage last week, the provincial governor said.

Gov. Abdusakur Tan II of the southern province of Sulu said that the 10 Indonesians, including their captain, were dropped off near his residence Sunday morning following 35 days in captivity after Abu Sayyaf militants seized their vessel.

“They were drenched because it was raining hard at the time,’’ Mr. Tan said. “I first gave them towels because they haven’t showered for the past 35 days,” he said.

The Indonesians said their captors hadn’t harmed them and believed that they had been released because of stepped-up pressure being applied by the Philippine military, Mr. Tan said.

“They told me they could hear gunfire and explosions, a sign the military operations are close to where they were held,” Mr. Tan said.

The Indonesians were flown to Zamboanga City and would be turned over to Indonesian officials, the governor said.

In Jakarta, the foreign ministry said it was working to confirm the reports.

The military increased operations in the southern Philippines after the group beheaded John Ridsdel, a Canadian former mining executive who was abducted last year with another Canadian, a Norwegian and a Filipina at the resort island of Samal in the southern Philippines. They are still being held.

After the Canadian was beheaded last week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for a meeting between security officials of Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, which has four mariners as hostages under the group’s control, to launch joint maritime patrols stop a surge in piracy and kidnappings.

Abu Sayyaf, an extremist group that claims ties to Islamic State, has defied decades of attempts by the U.S.-backed Philippine military to eradicate it. The group claims to be fighting for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate across the Muslim regions of Southeast Asia.

In early April, 18 soldiers were killed and 52 were injured in an ill-fated attempt to kill or capture Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the deaths, but the military dismissed that as propaganda and said there was no direct link between the two organizations.

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