Ransom of $97,750 paid for freed Australian hostage

Islamic militants in the lawless southern Philippines were paid US$97,750 for the release of Warren Rodwell, a negotiator said after the Australian survived 15 months in captivity before rowing to safety.

This photo, taken on March 23, 2013 and released by the Australian Foreign Ministry, shows Warren Rodwell (C) being escorted by US military personnel to a waiting vehicle shortly after arriving at a military airbase by helicopter in Zamboanga on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, from Pagadian where he was released after having been kidnapped by Islamic militants.

Al Rashid Sakalahul, vice governor of the strife-torn island province of Basilan, said late Saturday he acted as the negotiator for Rodwell's freedom with a feared leader of an extremist group, known for beheading his victims.

An emaciated Rodwell, a former soldier, 54, was released at Pagadian, a port city on Mindanao island, Saturday, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of where he was kidnapped on December 5, 2011.

Police who picked up Rodwell quoted him as saying he was left in a boat by his captors in the waters between Basilan and Pagadian and told to row to safety.

The ransom was substantially less than the $2 million the kidnappers, members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, had initially demanded soon after they broke into the house Rodwell shared with his Filipina wife in Ipil town.

Sakalahul said he had succeeded in getting them to lower their demand to four million pesos.

"It was really a tough negotiation, but in the end, with God's help we managed to secure the release of Rodwell," he told reporters.

He said he did not know where the money was sourced but it was passed through Rodwell's wife Miraflor Gutang and her brother Roger.

Sakalahul said he came forward to deny speculation Manila that "middlemen" had pocketed some of the ransom.

"My only mission was to save the life of Rodwell by getting him out from the Abu Sayyaf. I am clean. My conscience is clean," he said.

He said the negotiations were conducted with an emissary of Puruji Indama, an Abu Sayyaf commander in Basilan feared for beheading and mutilating his victims.

Indama gained prominence after he and other Muslim militants attacked a Philippine military convoy, killing and mutilating 14 marines in 2007.

In November, 2009, Indama kidnapped three ethnic Chinese factory workers and beheaded one of them before releasing the other two.

Founded in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden, the Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the country's worst terror attacks including a series of bombings and kidnappings mainly targeting foreigners and Christians.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Canberra did not pay any money to secure Rodwell's release.

"Just be clear that the Australian government never pays ransoms," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"I won't comment on arrangements that may have been made by Mr Rodwell's family and Abu Sayyaf, made through the Philippines anti-kidnapping unit and their police force."

Regional military spokesman Colonel Rodrigo Gregorio also said he had no knowledge of any ransom.

After his release Rodwell was flown by helicopter to a military base in Zamboanga, one of the major cities in the southern Philippines, for medical treatment.

Senior Philippine military sources said he was being cared for in a tightly-secured, special US military enclave within the Philippine base.

A rotating force of 600 US Special Forces has been stationed in the southern Philippines since 2002 to help train local troops in how to combat Islamic militants such as the Abu Sayyaf.

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Writer: AFP
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