World

Men Held Hostage By Muslim Militants ‘Lucky To Be Alive’

REUTERS/Philippine National Red Cross via Reuters TV

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

A Norwegian man and three Indonesian fishermen were set free by their Muslim militant captors Sunday, and spared the gruesome fate met by other hostages.

The radical Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) held Norwegian national Kjartan Sekkingstad for a year in the jungles of the Southern Philippines before releasing him Sunday, reports The Strait Times. The ASG also released three Indonesian fisherman — Lorence Koten, Teodorus Kopong, and Emanual — who were captured back in July.

ASG released the captives to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which brokered a deal with the Philippine government and now serves as an intermediary between the warring parties. The prisoners were delivered to authorities by MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari.

“I am so very happy and lucky to be alive,” Sekkingstad told reporters in the municipality of Indanan on Jolo Island in the  Philippines. The frail and noticeably-beleaguered Norwegian wore a rebel camouflage jacket and carried a bullet-riddled backpack,

Sekkingstad was kidnapped on Sept. 21, 2015 from a yacht club he managed on the southern side of Samal Island. ASG fighters also abducted Canadians John Risdel and Robert Hall, and Hall’s Filipino girlfriend Marites Flor, revealed the Washington Post. The three Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped on July 9, 2016, while fishing off Kampung Sinakut near Lahad Datu district in Sabah, Malaysia.

While the ASG is an Islamic State-linked organization, it has no known source of funding, so the group primarily relies on kidnappings and ransoms to support its operations.

After the Philippine government failed to pay a ransom of $6.5 million per hostage, the ASG beheaded Risdel on April 25 and Hall on June 14. The latter’s head was found in a plastic bag at a church in the town of Jolo. After Flor was released in June, she said that the ASG fighters took great pleasure in beheading the two Canadians. Sekkingstad said his captors regularly threatened him, telling him he was next.

Sekkingstad described his time with the ASG as “devastating.”

“We were treated like slaves,” he told reporters, recounting the brutality and violence he and the other captives encountered. He said they were forced to carry the ASG’s belongings as the group marched through the jungles of the Southern Philippines.

Despite facing countless horrors, Sekkingstad is quite fortunate. Not only did he manage to avoid being beheaded, but he also survived more than a dozen engagements between ASG fighters and Philippine soldiers. A bullet pierced his backpack during one skirmish involving attack helicopters and Philippine ground forces.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte paid $1 million for the release of hostages last month, but the ASG held onto its prisoners. Over the past month, thousands of Philippines troops have been dispatched to the Southern Philippines to combat the growing ASG threat. It is  currently unclear which action caused the ASG to release Sekkingstad and the three Indonesian fishermen.

The ASG militants are reportedly still holding five Indonesians, five Malaysians, a Dutch bird watcher, and five Filipinos hostage.

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