JOLO, Philippines (AFP) - Three Indonesian fishermen held by members of a notorious Islamist kidnap-for-ransom group have walked free 18 months after they were abducted off the southern Philippines, the military said on Sunday (Sept 16).
The men were kidnapped in January 2017 while on board a speedboat off the southernmost island group of Tawi-Tawi which, together with the nearby Sulu archipelago, is preyed on by Abu Sayyaf militants.
The Indonesians were freed in the town of Indanan in Sulu on Saturday and turned over to the authorities following "intensified military operations" against the Abu Sayyaf, a regional army spokesman said without giving details.
Asked if a ransom was paid, Lieutenant-Colonel Gerry Besana told Agence France-Presse: "No, there was definitely no ransom given. (They) were pressured by our operations."
The Abu Sayyaf has been known to behead hostages unless ransom payments are made.
The group is a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. It has earned millions of dollars from banditry and kidnappings-for-ransom, often targeting foreigners.
The Abu Sayyaf is based in strife-torn southern islands but its members began in 2016 to kidnap sailors in the waters between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The rise in abductions sparked Indonesian warnings that the region could become the "next Somalia" and pushed the three neighbours to pledge joint naval patrols.
On Sunday, the Philippine military identified the three Indonesians as Hamdam Bin Salim, 34, Subande Satto, 27, and Sudarlan Samansung, 41.
The hostages were brought to a military hospital and turned over to the Indonesian ambassador, who was to accompany them to the Philippine capital Manila, a military statement said.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding 11 hostages, including a Dutch bird-watcher abducted in 2012 and a Vietnamese captive, according to Lt-Col Besana.