A German couple held hostage for six months by an Islamist group in the Philippines has been freed, according to a military spokesman. The al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf has claimed they received the demanded ransom.
Two German hostages, Stefan O.,a man in his 70s and his 55-year-old partner, Henrike D., were freed by the militant Islamic group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines on Friday, the German Foreign Ministry confirmed.
"We are relieved that we can confirm that both Germans are no longer in the kidnappers' hand," a ministry spokesperson said.
Earlier, the Philippines military confirmed a statement made by Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Rami that the couple had been released after the demanded 250 million peso ($5.6 million) ransom had been paid.
"They are now safe and secure at an army camp," a police official told Reuters. He added that the man and woman had been fetched from a police checkpoint before they were taken to a military hospital.
According to news agency AFP, Philippine armed forces chief General Gregorio Catapang denies knowledge that any ransom payment was made. He said the military made no deals about money, adding: "We do not negotiate with terrorists."
The pair were last seen sailing from Palawan, a western province of the Philippines, heading to Malaysia. Their yacht was found abandoned off the Philippine city of Bataraza on April 26.
The kidnappers issued the ransom demand on September 24 and set a deadline of October 10 which was eventually extended by a week.In a radio interview on Wednesday, Stefan O., who had been separated from his partner for weeks, gave a telephone radio interview in which he said the militants were forcing him to stand in a hole they called his grave.
German threatened with beheading
The militants threatened to behead the man if the ransom was not paid and Germany did not retract its support of US-led airstrikes against "Islamic State" (IS) jihadists in Syria. Abu Rami announced on Friday that the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group had received "not a single centavo less" than the demanded 250 million pesos and so would not kill the German they had threatened.
German government sources confirmed on Friday that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had sent a special envoy to negotiate with the Philippine rebels. Envoy Rüdiger König arrived in Manila on Thursday evening. The hostages were then released from the remote island of Jolo, 600 miles (960 km) south of Manila on Friday.
Although there are several Muslim rebel groups in the mostly Catholic Philippines, Abu Sayyaf is the most prominent, having burst onto the international radar in 2000 when they kidnapped 21 workers and tourists from a resort in Malaysia.
es/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)