The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has released its two German hostages late Friday night, according to radio and television reports.
The report that Stefan Viktor Okonek and Herite Dieter had been freed could not be confirmed or denied by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as of press time.
The Reuters news agency also reported that a P60-million had been paid, citing a government source who declined to be identified.
The Abu Sayyaf had threatened to behead the 55-year-old Okonek if a P250-million ransom was not paid. But authorities said the beheading was delayed as government troops pressed their hunt for the extremist group in the jungles of Sulu.
AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan refused to confirm or deny the hostages’ release. “Please allow me to coordinate with my superiors,” Tutaan told The Manila Times in a text message.
The Times’ correspondent in Zamboanga, Al Jacinto, said news about the Germans’ release in Patikul, Sulu, had reached members of the local media, but they were waiting for official confirmation.
Okonek and Dieter, 55, were seized off the coast the Palawan last April. They were on a yacht en route to Sabah, Malaysia.
The Abu Sayyaf Group is believed to be holding at least 10 other civilian hostages, including three other foreigners.
The Sulu Management Crisis Committee chairman had given the green light to security forces to go after the Abu Sayyaf after negotiations for the release of the Germans bogged down.
The military has deployed about 1,200 additional troops to Sulu in what appears to be a preparation for an all-out offensive against the terrorists.
Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, commander of the Philippine Natuional Police’s Task Force Sulu and designated spokesman for the joint Law Enforcement Operation of the police and military said the security forces were prepared to move in if the local crisis committee headed by Tan failed to resolve the hostage crisis.
The Abu Sayyaf is among the Islamist groups in southern Philippines that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State inIraq and Syria (ISIS).
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the government is doing everything to secure the release of the two Germans.
“The Philippine government is exerting all efforts to secure the safe release of the German hostages. We shall continue to pursue this objective,” Coloma added.
The military has deployed K9 units to Sulu to help ground troops search for the foreigners being held by the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Marine Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, a spokeswoman for Western Mindanao Command, said: “The K9 teams will help track down the Abu Sayyaf as military troops continue to pursue the bandits in their hiding places. Intensified law enforcement operations in coordination with the local government and the police are ongoing to facilitate rescue of kidnap victims and expedite the arrest of Abu Sayyafs in the province.”
Another Abu Sayyaf faction also threatened to kill Malaysian fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin, 32, who was kidnapped along with a Filipino worker on June 16 this year from a fish farm in the town of Kunak in Tawau District. The militants are demanding 3 million ringgits (P41 million) for the safe release of the fish breeder.
It is also holding captive a Malaysian policeman, Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, who was seized on June 12 also this year after a clash in Sabah that killed another policeman. The militants are demanding 5 million ringgits (P68.3 million)
The Abu Sayyaf is also holding a 64-year old Japanese treasure hunter Katayama Mamaito, who was kidnapped from Pangutaran Island in July 2010; and two European wildlife photographers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland, who were taken captive in the coastal village of Parangan in Panglima Sugala town in Tawi-Tawi in 2012.
The Abu Sayyaf, formed by Ustadz Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani in 1992, continues to recruit members to fight the the government in their attempt to set up a strict Islamic state in Mindanao. The group now has hundreds of members in the Muslim autonomous region. With reports from ANTHONY VARGAS, JOEL M. SY EGCO AND AL JACINTO