ZAMBOANGA, Philippines: Ten Indonesian sailors held hostage by Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants were freed in the southern Philippines on Sunday, officials said, less than a week after the gunmen beheaded a Canadian captive.
In Jakarta, Indonesian President Joko Widodo confirmed that, “thanks be to God,” the 10 had been freed and would arrive home around midnight.
Unidentified men delivered the 10 tugboat crewmen outside the home of provincial governor Abdusakur Tan, Jr. on the remote Philippine island of Jolo during a heavy midday downpour, the governor told reporters later.
On learning who they were, the politician’s security men let them in and the governor said he gave them a meal before turning them over to the police.
“The recovery of the 10 Indonesians is good news. We hope and pray that the others may also walk freely away from their captors,” Tan said shortly before the Indonesians were flown to the nearby southern port of Zamboanga en route for home.
“Our prayers have been answered,” Rahmat Mansyur, brother of freed hostage Wawan Saputra, told Agence France-Presse in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province. “A few days ago when the kidnappers beheaded a hostage we were very worried, but now we heard he is safe we feel so blessed.”
Authorities said the Abu Sayyaf was still holding at least 11 foreign hostages — four sailors from Indonesia and four others from Malaysia, a Canadian tourist, a Norwegian resort owner and a Dutch birdwatcher.
The 10 Indonesians were released just six days after Abu Sayyaf members beheaded Canadian tourist John Ridsdel, for whom they had demanded $21 million in ransom.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III vowed Wednesday to neutralize the militants after the Canadian retiree’s head was left outside a government building in Jolo.
The fate of the other hostages remained unknown even as artillery and military aircraft bombed suspected Abu Sayyaf positions on Jolo in the past week.
The small group of militants is based on Jolo and nearby Basilan island and is accused of kidnappings and deadly bombings.
Officials would also not say if any ransom was paid for the 10 Indonesians.
Their employers had received a ransom call from someone claiming to be from the Abu Sayyaf on the day they were abducted.
Abu Sayyaf does not normally free hostages unless a ransom is paid.
“There have been a lot of efforts by the local and provincial government and the military and police in securing the safe release not only of the Indonesians, but other hostages as well,” Tan said.
The 10 sailors were abducted off the southern Philippines on March 26 as their tugboat pulled a barge from Borneo island to the Philippines.
Filipino authorities later described the kidnappers as members of the Abu Sayyaf, a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since the 1970s.
Abu Sayyaf is believed to have just a few hundred militants but has withstood repeated US-backed military offensives against it, using the mountainous jungle terrain of Jolo and nearby islands to its advantage.
Abu Sayyaf gangs have earned many millions of dollars from kidnapping foreigners and locals since the early 1990s.
Although its leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, analysts say they are more focused on lucrative kidnappings-for-ransom than on setting up a caliphate.
Jakarta will host a meeting of foreign ministers and military commanders from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on Thursday aimed at discussing joint naval patrols where the sailors were abducted. AFP