Al Qaeda-linked militants free 2 Filipino hostages
Manila: Abu Sayyaf gunmen have freed two Filipino members of a Jordanian TV journalist's crew who were kidnapped by the al Qaeda-linked militants last year as they set out to interview the extremists in their jungle lairs in the southern Philippines, police said on Sunday.
Policemen found frail-looking cameraman Ramel Vela and audio technician Roland Letriro late yesterday and brought them to a hospital in southern Sulu province, where they were kidnapped in June along with Jordanian Baker Abdulla Atyani, provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra said. Atyani is believed to still be held by the gunmen.
"They really lost weight because they were constantly under stress each day," Freyra told The Associated Press.
A still-unspecified amount was paid to secure the freedom of the two captives, according to three security officials who have been closely monitoring the kidnappings.
The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
Military officials have said Abu Sayyaf militants have demanded USD 3.1 million for the release of Atyani and his two crew members.
Hundreds of rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal with the government, have also been negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of Atyani and other foreign hostages, including two European bird watchers who were abducted last year.
Moro commander Khabir Malik said his group had taken the initiative to seek the freedom of the hostages to help the government clean up the image of Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province where the Abu Sayyaf has carried out deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings, primarily in the early 2000s.
US-backed military offensives have crippled the Abu Sayyaf in recent years, but it remains a national security threat. Washington has listed the group as a terrorist organization.
Malik said last week that he met with an Abu Sayyaf commander, Jul-Asman Sawadjaan, to seek the release of Atyani and his two crew members, who were believed being held in the jungles of Sulu's mountainous Patikul town. But the extremists did not show any sign that they would free their captives soon, Malik said.
Malik had suggested that his armed group could consider other options including a rescue to secure the captives' freedom from the smaller Abu Sayyaf group.