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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Manila mum on whether ransom was paid

MANILA - Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines have freed four Malaysian sailors more than two months after they were abducted off Borneo island, an official said Wednesday.

Maj. Filemon Tan, a Philippine military spokesman in Zamboanga, said the four crew members were freed early Wednesday in Sulu and immediately taken by speedboat to Sandakan in Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo.

Another Philippine military source said a ransom was believed to have been paid, but Tan said he couldn’t confirm whether that was true. Media reports have said the Abu Sayyaf demanded 18 million ringgit ($4.5 million) for the release of the four men, who were kidnapped from their tugboat on April 1.

Sabah police declined to provide details.

In April, Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded a Canadian hostage after they failed to receive a large ransom by a deadline they had set. Three other people who were kidnapped with him last September — another Canadian, a Norwegian and a Filipino — are still being held.

More than a dozen foreign and Filipino hostages remain in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf, including a Dutch bird watcher who was kidnapped more than three years ago.

Both the United States and the Philippines have labeled the Abu Sayyaf a terrorist organization.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed last month to boost maritime security following increased kidnappings at sea by suspected Abu The Philippines rarely publicizes ransom payments, but it is widely believed no captives are released without them.

Canadian John Ridsdel, 68, a former mining executive, was executed in April by Abu Sayyaf who captured him and three others in 2015 while they were on vacation on a Philippine island.

Philippine Major Filemon Tan told reporters the Malaysians were released on Jolo, Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold in the southern Philippines.

“We have yet to confirm whether ransom money was paid in exchange for the safe release of the victims,” Tan said, adding that the kidnapping was led by Abu Sayyaf leader Madjan Sahidjuan, also known as Apuh Mike.

Malaysian authorities have yet to confirm the sailors’ release.

Abu Sayyaf, a group linked to the Islamic State, have become notorious for kidnapping, earning millions of dollars in ransom.

Last month, 14 Indonesians kidnapped by the group were released but several people, including Norwegian, Canadian and Japanese citizens, are still being held.

Security is precarious in the southern Philippines, despite a 2014 peace pact between the government and the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict.

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