MANILA (Reuters) - Islamist militants in the southern Philippines released 10 Indonesian hostages on Sunday, ending a month-long ordeal during which a kidnapped Canadian held by the same group was beheaded after a ransom deadline passed.
The chief of police on Jolo island said the hostages, who were crew of a Taiwanese-owned tugboat intercepted by Abu Sayyaf rebels, were delivered to the local governor’s home at around 1 a.m. ET then taken to an army base.
“They appeared tired but were in high spirits,” said Police Superintendent Junpikar Sitin.
Police and military officials said it was unclear whether or not a ransom was paid for the men. The Philippines rarely publicizes such payments, but it is widely believed no captives are released without them.
The fate of four other hostages from Indonesia held by a different Abu Sayyaf faction is unknown. Indonesia’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment on Sunday’s release of the 10 detainees.
Abu Sayyaf, a formidable and brutal militia known for amassing tens of millions of dollars from the ransom business, is now holding 13 people, among them four Malaysian seamen and Japanese, Netherlands, Canadian, Norwegian and Filipino citizens.
John Ridsdel, 68, a former mining executive, was executed on Monday by the Abu Sayyaf, which kidnapped him and three others from a resort last year. His head was found in a bag a few hours after the deadline passed and a torso was discovered two days after.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it “an act of cold-blooded murder” and has urged countries not to pay ransoms. The price for his life was 300 million pesos ($6.41 million).
Philippine President Benigno Aquino has vowed to devote all his energy to eliminating the group before he steps down in two months.
But the group’s network is deeply entrenched and efforts to flush out its fighters have proved to be a big challenge for the 2,500 Philippine troops engaging them.
The lucrative business has allowed Abu Sayyaf, whose name translates as “Bearer of the Sword”, to invest in high-powered boats, weapons and modern communications equipment. With poverty and joblessness rife, it is able to recruit with ease.
Foreign ministers of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are due to meet in Jakarta this week to discuss ways to work together to secure key shipping routes in the waters between the three countries.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Additional reporting by Randy Fabi in Jakarta; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Kim Coghill