An Australian ex-soldier who was just freed by Philippine extremists has recounted how his kidnappers fired shots to stop him escaping during his 15-month ordeal, a Philippine police officer said yesterday.
Even when he was finally released, Warren Rodwell had to paddle a boat to a distant town and wade ashore through the mud to reach safety, said Police Inspector Eurem Macasil, the first officer to meet him.
Rodwell, 54, was abducted from his home in the southern Philippine town of Ipil on Dec. 5, 2011, and was freed by members of extremist group Abu Sayyaf before dawn on Saturday after extensive negotiations.
The Islamist militants were paid US$97,750 in ransom, a negotiator said.
Pagadian Wharf supervisor Nathaniel Campos was the first person to spot the Australian as he waded ashore in darkness in the port city.
A surprised Campos asked the soaked and mud-splattered foreigner if he was a tourist.
“No, I’m not a tourist. I am a kidnap victim. Please help me,” Rodwell said.
Campos took Rodwell to the Pagadian Maritime Police headquarters, where Macasil offered him a cup of coffee.
Rodwell was so weak he could barely bring the cup to his lips, Macasil said.
He told the police officer some of his experiences, like how his captors had repeatedly transferred him from one small island to another to elude pursuit.
During his captivity, he was not shackled or caged, but was always closely watched by the gunmen.
“He said he had several opportunities to escape, but was not successful. They would open fire and force him to stop,” Macasil said. “He said he was worried after he heard in a conversation [among the gunmen] that there was an [armed] encounter and that they cut off someone’s head,” Macasil said.
Rodwell said he was in the southernmost island group of Tawi-Tawi, near the Philippines’ maritime border with Malaysia, when the gunmen took him by boat to Pagadian to release him.
They left Rodwell in a rowboat off the coast of Pagadian and told him to paddle to safety, but when he reached the shore, the tide was out and he was forced to wade through the mud.
Rodwell was later picked up by Philippine and Australian authorities, who flew him to the southern city of Zamboanga, where he is receiving medical attention at a major military base.
His kidnappers are a Muslim extremist group that was founded in the early 1990s with seed money from former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The group has been blamed for the Philippines’ worst terror attacks, including a series of bombings and kidnappings that mainly targeted foreigners and Christians.