MANILA - The Abu Sayyaf terrorist group released on Sunday night (Nov 8) one of two Malaysians taken in May from an upscale Sandakan resort in Malaysia's Sabah state, reportedly after payment of some 30 million pesos (S$900,000) in ransom.
A police report said Ms Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, manager of the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan, was released in Bud Taran village in Sulu province, some 1,400km south of the capital Manila.
One other Malaysian taken by the Abu Sayyaf with Ms Thien, Mr Bernard Fen, 39, an engineer, is still being held.
Police identified the leaders of the group behind the abduction as Alhabsy Misaya, Alden Bagade and Angah Adji.
Another reported leader of the group, Mindas Muktader, was earlier killed when he shot it out with security officials at a street in Jolo province, in Sulu.
Sulu Vice-Governor Abdusakur Tan was said to have helped negotiate Ms Thien's release through one of his security aides.
Two Malaysian police officials were said to have accompanied the vice-governor's aide to a meeting point marked by the Abu Sayyaf where the 30 million peso ransom was handed over.
Ms Thien was reported to already be in Sabah at around 7am on Monday (Nov 9).
Intelligence officials have linked the group that abducted Ms Thien and Mr Fen to a series of kidnappings in Sabah, including one incident that involved Taiwanese tourist Evelyn Chang.
Ms Chang was abducted as she and her husband Hsu Li-min were on holiday in Pom Pom Island in 2013.
He husband was killed, and Ms Chang was held by the Abu Sayyaf for two months before she was released in a remote town in Jolo.
The group was also said to be behind the abduction of Ms Gao Huayun, a Chinese, and a Filipino resort worker, Ms Marcy Dayawan, in April last year (2014) from the Singamata Adventures and Reef Resort in Semporna town.
Ms Gao and Ms Dayawan were released two months later after Ms Gao's family reportedly paid a ransom of about 300 million pesos .
The Abu Sayyaf was formed by disgruntled Moro Islamic fighters in 1991, with Al-Qaeda funding. However, it did not gain prominence till May 2000, when it attacked a dive resort in Sipadan, Malaysia, taking 21 hostages.
Over the years, US-backed military campaigns had managed to decimate the group's leadership.
In recent years, however, it has managed to regain some of its strength from ransoms it managed to raise from traders it kidnapped in Sabah and in Mindanao.
A security analyst said the ransoms sometimes involve not just cash but also firearms, ammunitions and supplies.