Two Germans who were freed on Friday after being held captive for six months by militants in the southern Philippines were handed over to their embassy in the Philippine capital, Manila, on Saturday, officials said.
Photos released by the military showed the couple - a 72-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman - being welcomed by embassy staff at an air force base in Manila. The welcoming party was led by a special envoy sent by Germany to oversee efforts to free the couple, who Philippine authorities say were seized at sea on April 25 off the island of Palawan.
Philippine Major General Domingo Tutaaan said the couple were "probably still tired and pressured, but they are now in safe hands."
The two captives had received frequent threats to their lives, and described their captivity as "living hell."
Militants from the Abu Sayyaf group released the couple late on Friday as a deadline for the German government to pay a ransom of $5.6 million (4.4 million euros) ran out. The group had threatened to behead the man if the ransom was not paid and Germany did not stop its support for US-led military operations against "Islamic State" fighters in Syria and Iraq.
A spokesman for the group said the entire ransom had been received, but this has not been confirmed or denied by officials.
If true, it would be the highest ransom paid to Abu Sayyaf since 2000, when the group was allegedly given up to $1 million for each of 21 workers and tourists taken from a resort in Malaysia.
Analysts have warned that such payments could embolden the group to extend its activities and lead to more kidnappings.
"This is a very bad signal because you're telling people that kidnapping is the quickest way to earn money," political and defense analyst Clarita Carlos said, adding that the security threat in the Philippines would increase as a result.
Since it was founded in the 1990s, Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for deadly bombings, kidnappings and attacks on government troops.
US Special Forces troops have been in the southern Philippines over the past 12 years to help train the Philippine military to fight Abu Sayyaf, which is believed to be holding at least 13 other hostages, including five foreigners.
tj/mkg (dpa, AFP)