Freed Norwegian, Indonesian hostages headed home

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Norwegian and Indonesian captives recently freed by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu province headed home Sunday night, September 18, after they were turned over to representatives of their respective governments.

Former captives Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Indonesians Lorence Koten, Theorus Kopong, and Emanuel Arakain were turned over by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza and former Sulu vice governor Sakur Tan in Sulu on Sunday afternoon, September 18. 

Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu was in Zamboanga City to bring back home the 3 Indonesians who were released that day. The Abu Sayyaf kidnapped them – reportedly in Lahad Datu, Sabah – in July.

Sekkingstad was turned over to Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Førner in Davao City. He was abducted from a high-end tourist resort in September 2015 along with two Canadians who were later beheaded, and a Filipina woman, Marites Flor, who was released earlier.

Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall were executed after a ransom demand of about 300 million pesos ($6.5 million) was not met.

The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

It is based in remote Muslim populated southern islands of the mainly Catholic Philippines, and has earned millions of dollars from kidnap-for-ransoms, often targeting foreigners.

While its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) group, analysts say the group is mainly focused on a lucrative kidnapping business rather than religious ideology.

The group, which is blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history and listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, has been the target of a military operation since August. – With reports from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com