Filipino Islamist insurgents free German hostages

Abu Sayyaf group threatened to behead one of the men if a ransom was not paid.

German hostages Dr Stefan Viktor Okonek, centre, and Henrike Dielen, second right, arrive at the Villamor Air base in Pasay city, metro Manila on Saturday. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

MANILA // Two Germans freed after being held for six months in the southern Philippines by a militant group that threatened to behead one of them if ransom was not paid were flown to Manila on Saturday under the care of their embassy, a Philippine military spokesman said.

Following their release on Friday, Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen were flown to Manila under arrangements made by the German Embassy, said Maj Gen Domingo Tutaan. The two have not spoken publicly about their ordeal and German diplomats could not be reached for comment.

Philippine defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed their released late Friday, just hours after the Abu Sayyaf militant group had threatened to behead Okonek.

Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Rami told radio station DXRZ in southern Zamboanga City that his group received $5.6 million in ransom. He did not say who paid it.

Mr Gazmin said he was “not privy” to information about any ransom payment, though other Philippine officials confirmed that ransom had been paid.

“We’re happy they’re safe. I hope there will be no more (kidnappings),” Mr Gazmin said.

The German foreign ministry thanked the Philippine government for its “close and trustful cooperation,” but did not give details on how the release came about.

Herminio Coloma, a spokesman for Philippine president Benigno Aquino III, said officials were still trying to piece together details of the release. He said there was “no change in the ‘no ransom’ policy of the government.”

“With the release from captivity of the two German nationals, our security forces will continue efforts to stem the tide of criminality perpetrated by bandit elements,” Mr Coloma said.

Ggen Tutaan said Mr Okonek and Mr Dielen were brought by a Philippine navy ship to southern Zamboanga City after their release and spent the night at a military hospital there.

Military officials and government agents monitoring the hostage crisis said the amount of ransom that was paid ranged from $112,000 to $5.4 million.

One of the officials said that Mr Okonek appeared to have been beaten up by his captors because he had a black eye. In a video earlier released by the Abu Sayyaf, he was shown being roughed up and slapped.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen seized Mr Okonek and Mr Dielen from a yacht in April between Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo Island and the western Philippine province of Palawan. They were taken by boat to predominantly Muslim Sulu province, about 950 kilometres south of Manila, where militants are holding other hostages.

Abu Rami had threatened to behead Mr Okonek at 3pm on Friday, but extended the deadline for the ransom payment. The group also had demanded the withdrawal of German support for the US-led air strikes against ISIL.

In a call to the Zamboanga radio station, Rami said Mr Okonek and Mr Dielen were released around 8:45pm. Friday to a negotiator in a village in Patikul township on Jolo Island, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

Military chief of staff Gen Gregorio Catapang said the Abu Sayyaf is still holding more than a dozen other Filipino and foreign hostages, including two European birdwatchers who were kidnapped two years ago.

* Associated Press