MANILA (AFP) - A Filipina held hostage by a notorious kidnapping-for-ransom gang in the strife-torn southern Philippines was released from captivity on Friday (June 24), police said, a week after her Canadian boyfriend was beheaded by the gunmen.
Ms Marites Flor was among four people abducted nine months ago by Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants based on remote, mountainous islands, who have earned millions of dollars from kidnappings in recent years.
Ms Flor's partner Robert Hall, was beheaded after a ransom deadline lapsed last week, following a similar killing of the other Canadian hostage, John Ridsdel, in April.
Ms Flor was freed in Sulu, a southern archipelago known as a hideout of the militants, the local police chief Wilfredo Cayat told AFP.
Mr Cayat did not give details on the circumstances of her release except that she was dropped off outside the house of local politician Abdusakur Tan on Jolo, the main island in Sulu.
Another politician from the area, Mr Jesus Dureza, told AFP he negotiated with the kidnappers on behalf of Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to win Ms Flor's release.
"She told me her captors roused her at dawn and ordered her to pack up, telling her: 'You are going home,'" Mr Dureza added.
Mr Dureza later accompanied Ms Flor on a private jet to the southern city of Davao for a meeting with Mr Duterte, who takes office as the next Philippine president on June 30.
The fate of Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was abducted along with Ms Flor and the Canadians, remained unknown.
The four were seized in September aboard yachts at a tourist resort on Samal island, about 500km to the west of Sulu.
Ms Flor's ordeal ended on the same day Indonesian authorities announced that seven Indonesian sailors have been kidnapped at sea off the southern Philippines where Abu Sayyaf is known to operate.
Philippine authorities told AFP they were working to verify the report. If confirmed, it would be the third kidnapping of Indonesian sailors this year.
Fourteen other Indonesian hostages and four Malaysians have been freed since the beginning of the year.
The defence ministers of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed this week to consider coordinated steps including possible joint patrols to tackle a wave of seaborne crime in the Sulu and Celebes seas, which together form a key waterway among the three countries.
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a few hundred Islamic militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network that has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.
It is a radical offshoot of a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines that has claimed more than 100,000 lives. The main Muslim rebel groups do not generally engage in kidnappings-for-ransom.
Although Abu Sayyaf's leaders have pledged allegiance to Islamic State, analysts say they are mainly focused on their lucrative kidnappings-for-ransom rather than setting up an Islamic caliphate.