Abu Sayyaf frees 9 fishermen seized off Borneo

JOLO, Philippines – Suspected Islamic State-linked militants in the southern Philippines have freed 9 nomadic fishermen abducted off the Malaysian part of Borneo island, Filipino and Malaysian authorities said Saturday, June 22.

The men told Filipino police the Abu Sayyaf group, which funds its bombings and other armed attacks against security forces and civilians through ransom kidnappings, released the fishermen off the coast of Jolo island on Friday evening, June 21.

"They ordered us to jump off the boat," said one of the men who identified himself as Gan Tuban.

Much to their relief, he said the water was shallow and the men, who were snatched at sea early Tuesday, June 18, walked until they ran into a Filipino police patrol on a street near the town of Talipao.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah confirmed the release of the 9 to the Malaysian state news agency Bernama on Saturday.

"They walked in a group after being released by the kidnappers who knew they had no money to pay," he said.

The southern Philippines is home to numerous armed groups, and Abu Sayyaf is notorious for kidnappings of foreigners.

The militants, who demand large ransoms and have beheaded several hostages, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Omar said 10 nomadic sea gypsies were kidnapped Tuesday but the fate of the other victim was still unknown.

The freed men told Agence France-Presse they were not aware of a 10th captive.

There has been a spate of kidnappings in the waters between the southern Philippines and the Malaysian part of Borneo in recent years. Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Police took the freed captives to a military hospital on Saturday for a medical examination, though none of them appeared to have sustained any injuries.

Omar said the freed hostages had no documents and the authorities from both countries will discuss where to send them.

"The discussions will be conducted before a decision is made because they (the victims) have no personal identity documents," he said.

Tuban, who spoke the local Tausug language, said he was born in Borneo though his parents previously lived near Jolo. – Rappler.com