*UPDATES TO ADD INDONESIAN CONFIRMATION
By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – Philippine authorities confirmed Sunday that the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf militant group has freed 10 Indonesian sailors abducted from a boat in late March.
The police chief of the majority Muslim southern island province of Sulu told the Inquirer, “we were informed there were anonymous people who dropped the Indonesians just in front of the house of Sulu Governor [Abdusakur] Toto Tan [II]”.
“They were brought inside, they were fed. Governor Tan called me and they turned over the 10 to our custody. We are preparing now to bring the 10 to Zamboanga [city] and turn them to their consular official,” Wilfredo Cayat said.
He would not provide additional details.
An unnamed source told the newspaper that a 50 million peso ($1 million) ransom had been paid for the sailors’ release.
“They were supposed to be freed between Friday and Saturday somewhere in Luuk town,” the source said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo later announced that the 10 men had been freed, news website kompas.com reported.
“Thank God… the ten Indonesian citizens are in good condition,” kompas.com quoted him as saying at a press conference.
He underlined the strong cooperation that Indonesia and the Philippines had maintained during the process, and said Jakarta was still working for the release of four other nationals seized from a tugboat in mid-April.
The Indonesian government’s negotiator, Major Gen. Kivlan Zen, insisted that no ransom had been paid and that efforts had involved “purely negotiation”, according to detik.com.
The sailors had been seized off southern Tawi-Tawi province in waters where the Abu Sayyaf and affiliated kidnap-for-ransom gangs operate.
On April 25, militants in Sulu beheaded a Canadian hostage, 68-year-old John Ridsdel, after a 300-million pesos ($6 million) ransom failed to be paid.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III responded by promising to use the full resources of the country against the group to rescue the remaining hostages, including two other foreigners and a Filipina kidnapped alongside Ridsdel in September, and to ensure the safety of the civilian population.
In mid-April, four more Indonesians had been kidnapped from a tugboat off Tawi-Tawi’s southernmost Sitangkai town — located around 50 nautical miles northwest of Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state.
In early April, four Malaysians were abducted by armed Filipino gunmen off Semporna on the coast of Sabah, which also borders Indonesia’s North Kalimantan province.
After the abductions, the three neighboring countries have been discussing joint efforts to patrol the region’s waters.
Kidnap-for-ransom gangs frequently operate in the Philippines’ southern Zamboanga Peninsula and the island provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan.
They are known to hand over their captives to the Abu Sayyaf and negotiate for a ransom that, if paid, is shared with the group.
The kidnappers use isolated sea-lanes and coastal areas to grab their victims, who are then held captive in isolated villages in the peninsula.