Islamic militants free Aussie hostage

11:42am March 23, 2013
March 24, 2013: Freed hostage Warren Rodwell has told Philippines police how he was released by his captors, 15 months after he was kidnapped by extremist rebels.

Islamic militants in the Philippines have released Australian Warren Rodwell, almost 15 months after kidnapping him from his home on the southern island of Mindanao and demanding a $2 million ransom.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has confirmed and welcomed the release of Mr Rodwell, a retired soldier, after he was abducted by armed members of the al-Qaeda-linked group Abu Sayyaf on December 5, 2011.

Philippines military authorities said on Saturday Mr Rodwell was in the custody of police in Pagadian city, about 100 kilometres east of Ipil, where he had run a store with his Filipina wife Miraflor Gutang before the kidnapping.

A photo and short video taken by a journalist at the police station early on Saturday showed a gaunt but smiling Mr Rodwell, aged in his 50s, sitting alongside two policemen.

In the video, Mr Rodwell takes off a blue T-shirt and stands up to show off his body, smiling as he points to his ribs and says: "lose weight".

The kidnappers had previously released a series of video clips as proof he was still in their custody, and in which Mr Rodwell said his captors were demanding a $US2 million ($A1.93 million) ransom.

December 27, 2012: Australian Warren Rodwell released a video more than a year after being kidnapped by Muslim militants in the Philippines, saying he holds "no hope" of being released.

It was unclear on Saturday if any ransom money was paid for his release.

Senator Carr said it was not the government's policy to pay ransoms but he would not confirm or deny whether money had exchanged hands.

"The Australian government never pays ransoms - to do so would leave Australians exposed in all parts of the world to kidnappers who'd be motivated by a desire to get money and to get it fast from the Australian government," he told ABC TV.

"But I won't comment on arrangements that may have been made by Mr Rodwell's family and Abu Sayyaf, the kidnappers, made through the Philippines anti-kidnapping unit and their police force."

Al Rashid Sakalahul, the vice governor of the southern island of Basilan who negotiated with the Abu Sayyaf for Mr Rodwell's release, told AFP the militants called him up to confirm the hostage was freed in Pagadian.

Mr Sakalahul would not say if ransom money was paid, insisting he merely acted as an intermediary.

"Rodwell's family directly negotiated with the kidnappers and I do not know if they paid ransom ... my role was to get Rodwell out safely," he said.

Mr Rodwell settled in Ipil in 2011 after working as a teacher in China before marrying Ms Gutang, whom he met on the internet.

Senator Carr said he had spoken to Mr Rodwell's "enormously relieved" sister Denise, who would be flying to the Philippines on Sunday.

"It's a good outcome, but I imagine that he's going to take some time to recover from what was a very unsettling experience to say the least," he said.

He said Mr Rodwell was being moved to "a safe location" in the company of Philippines authorities, deputy Australian ambassador Andrew Burn and a representative of the Australian Defence Force.

He congratulated the Philippines government, particularly the National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group, for their professionalism and dedication and "their tireless efforts on Mr Rodwell's behalf".

Senator Carr said his release was also a credit to Australian officials in Manila and Canberra, including from DFAT, the Australian Federal Police and Defence.

"The focus now is on Mr Rodwell's speedy recovery," he added.

Mr Rodwell is believed to have fought his kidnappers when he was initially taken, and bloodstains found beside his house were believed to have been from an injury to his hand, according to a Philippines military officer.

In videos taken by his captors his eyes had been puffy and his face appeared bruised.

He had appealed for his family to raise the $2 million his kidnappers were seeking for his release "as soon as possible".

The Abu Sayyaf is one of many armed Islamist groups operating in the southern Philippines, which has been home to a deadly Muslim separatist insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives since the 1970s.

It is believed to have only a few hundred militants but has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in recent Philippine history, and has a long history of kidnapping foreigners, Christians and local business people for ransom.

© AAP 2014
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