June 8, 2016 / 8:27 AM / 2 years ago

Four Malaysians held hostage in the Philippines freed, army says

MANILA/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Four Malaysian sailors kidnapped by Filipino gunmen in April were freed on the southern Philippine island of Jolo on Wednesday, a Philippine army spokesman said.

The sailors, part of the crew of a tugboat traveling between Malaysia and the Philippines, were abducted by members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group off the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah on April 1.

It was not immediately clear if a ransom had been paid. The Philippines rarely publicizes such 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.

The sailors were then sent by speedboat to Sabah.

“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.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie

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