Ex-hostage tells of terror as friends beheaded in Philippines

A heavily bearded and gaunt Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was released on Saturday by the feared Abu Sayyaf group, also said he narrowly survived military attacks against his captors, with a bullet piercing his backpack.
Released Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad boards a plane on Jolo island in the southern Philippines after he was freed by Abu Sayyaf extremists from a year of jungle captivity on September 18, 2016. AP Photo/Nickee Butlangan
Released Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad boards a plane on Jolo island in the southern Philippines after he was freed by Abu Sayyaf extremists from a year of jungle captivity on September 18, 2016. AP Photo/Nickee Butlangan

Indanan, Philippines // A Norwegian former hostage on Sunday described his psychological torture as he heard his friends being beheaded by militants during a year-long captivity in the southern Philippines.

A heavily bearded and gaunt Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was released on Saturday by the feared Abu Sayyaf group, also said he narrowly survived military attacks against his captors, with a bullet piercing his backpack.

“Basically, I’ve been treated like a slave, carrying their stuff around, time to time abused,” a frail-looking Mr Sekkingstad said as he was received by a government envoy in the town of Indanan on the island of Jolo.

Also released were three Indonesians held by the group, who were also turned over to envoy Jesus Dureza.

Mr Sekkingstad said he endured “psychological pressure”, with the Abu Sayyaf threatening several times to behead him.

Mr Sekkingstad, then aged 56, was abducted in September 2015 from the high-end Philippine tourist resort which he managed and was taken to Jolo by the Abu Sayyaf.

Two Canadian resort guests captured with him, John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, were later beheaded by the group after a ransom demand of about 300 million pesos (Dh23.8m) was not met.

Mr Sekkingstad said that during the separate killings in April and June, the two handcuffed Canadians were escorted out of sight, “but still close enough that you could hear their cries when it happened.”

“It was devastating,” the visibly shaken Norwegian said.

Mr Sekkingstad said he also survived numerous military attacks on his captors and even saved as a souvenir a bullet that went through his backpack.

The Abu Sayyaf handed the Norwegian over to another Muslim rebel leader Nur Misuari, whose group assisted in the release and at whose camp he spent the night, according to the government.

Mr Misuari handed him and the Indonesians over to Mr Dureza at a meeting guarded by hundreds of Mr Misuari’s fighters from the Moro National Liberation Front.

Mr Sekkingstad and Mr Dureza then flew to Davao to meet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. The three Indonesians were taken to the nearby city of Zamboanga where a retired Indonesian general was waiting to pick them up.

Meeting Mr Duterte later, Mr Sekkingstad, thanked the president and all those who helped obtain his freedom.

It was unclear if any ransom was paid and, if so, by whom.

A spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf was quoted in a local newspaper on Sunday as saying the group received 30 million pesos for the Norwegian.

Norwegian and Philippines foreign ministry officials both denied that either government had paid a ransom, but did not rule out the possibility that a third party had paid the terror group.

Abu Sayyaf was formed in the 1990s with seed money from the Al Qaeda network.

Based in remote Muslim-populated southern islands of the Philippines, its kidnappings for ransom have earned it millions.

While its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to ISIL, analysts say the Abu Sayyaf is mainly focused on crime rather than religious ideology.

*Agence France-Presse

Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM

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