Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Militants free Australian hostage

Australian hostage Warren Rodwell, centre, arrives at the Command's headquarters in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines (AP/AFP-WESTMINCOM)
Australian hostage Warren Rodwell, centre, arrives at the Command's headquarters in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines (AP/AFP-WESTMINCOM)

Al Qaida-linked militants in the Philippines have released an emaciated-looking Australian man near a coastal town where they kidnapped him for ransom 15 months ago.

Warren Rodwell was today brought to police by residents of Pagadian city who saw him walking before dawn near the fishing port, where his abductors dropped him off, said local police chief Julius Munez.

Mr Rodwell "looked OK, just tired. But he looked like he lost a lot of weight," Mr Munez said.

In the US, where he is on a visit, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr welcomed the news, saying Mr Rodwell will be soon moved to a safe location.

Mr Carr said the release was a joint effort by authorities in both countries, and that the focus now was on Mr Rodwell's speedy recovery.

Mr Rodwell, 54, is a former Australian soldier who was married to a Filipino woman and had settled down in the southern Philippines. He was kidnapped in December 2011 from his seashore house in Ipil township west of Pagadian and taken by speedboat to nearby mountainous islands where Abu Sayyaf militants are hiding.

He had since appeared in several proof-of-life videos posted by the militants as negotiations for his release dragged on. His jungle captivity appeared to have taken a toll on his health as he appeared weaker in each video. He was one of several foreigners abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in the troubled region. Two Europeans and a Jordanian journalist are still being held alongside a Japanese man.

Military officials said Mr Rodwell was held in recent months in the militants' jungle hideouts on Basilan Island but had also been moved to nearby islands.

The Abu Sayyaf is on the US list of terrorist organisations. US-backed Philippine military operations have crippled attacks and terrorist plots waged by about 350 militants, who split into several groups. But they remain a serious security threat in the impoverished region where minority Muslims have been fighting for self-rule for decades.

A Philippine security official said a ransom was paid for Mr Rodwell's release, as was usually the case with other hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf over the last two decades. Both the Australian and Philippine governments have strict policies of refusing to pay ransoms. That left Mr Rodwell's family to struggle to raise funds, including selling some of their properties, according to an official confidential report.

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