Islamist militants yesterday released an emaciated-looking Australian man in the souther Philippines near a coastal town where they kidnapped him for ransom 15 months ago.
Warren Richard Rodwell was brought to police by residents of Pagadian City who saw him walking before dawn near the fishing port, where his abductors dropped him off, Java Police Chief Julius Munez said.
Rodwell “looked OK, just tired, but he looked like he lost a lot of weight,” Munez said.
In Washington, where he is on a visit, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bob Carr welcomed the news, saying the release was a joint effort by authorities in both countries and that the focus now was on Rodwell’s speedy recovery.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard praised Rodwell’s family for showing “a great deal of courage and stoicism in what has been a tremendously difficult situation. I think all Australians will be very pleased to hear this news and delighted on behalf of the Rodwell family.”
Rodwell was taken by a helicopter chartered by the US military to the US Joint Special Operations Task Force facility inside a Philippine military camp in Zamboanga City, about 880km south of Manila in Mindanao, regional Philippine military spokesman Colonel Rodrigo Gregorio said.
The US military unit provides counter-terrorism advice and training to Philippine troops fighting Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf.
Philippine security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a ransom was paid for Rodwell’s release, as was usually the case with other hostages held by Abu Sayyaf over the past two decades.
The officials who dealt with the abduction said they suspected that rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a former Muslim secessionist group that signed a preliminary peace accord with the Philippine government last year, Abu Sayyaf and al-Khobar criminal gang collaborated in detaining Rodwell and negotiating for a ransom.
The latest round of negotiations resumed last month and ended this week with the kidnappers agreeing to a payment of 2 million Philippine pesos (US$100,000). The kidnappers originally demanded US$2 million, the officials said.
Both the Australian and Philippine governments have strict policies of refusing to pay ransoms. That left Rodwell’s family to struggle to raise funds, including selling some of their properties, according to an official confidential report obtained by media.
Rodwell, 54, a former Australian soldier who was married to a Philippine woman and had settled down in the southern Philippines, 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 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 Abu Sayyaf in the region. Two Europeans, a Jordanian journalist and a Japanese man are still being held.
Military officials said that in recent months, Rodwell was held in the militants’ jungle hideouts on Basilan Island. Zamboanga del Sur, where he was released, is a short boat ride from Basilan.