Islamist militants reportedly free Norwegian hostage in Philippines

Kjartan Sekkingstad was abducted in September 2015, alongside a Filipina woman, who has already been freed, and two Canadians who were beheaded

A Norwegian held hostage by a notorious kidnapping-for-ransom gang in the strife-torn southern Philippines was released Saturday after a year in captivity and will soon be handed over to authorities, officials said.

Kjartan Sekkingstad was abducted by Abu Sayyaf from a high-end tourist resort in September 2015, alongside a Filipina woman, who has already been freed, and two Canadian men who were later beheaded by the Islamist militant group.

Sekkingstad was released by Abu Sayyaf on Saturday and handed to another Muslim rebel group in Sulu, a remote archipelago known as a militant hideout, Philippine president Rodrigo Dutertes peace advisor said.

He is now released by captors and staying overnight with Nur Misuaris camp … due to heavy rain, Jesus Dureza said, referring to the founder of the Muslim rebel group Moro National Liberation Front.

The MNLF is currently in peace talks with the government and have been working with authorities to secure Sekkingstads release.

He is well, Dureza said, adding Sekkingstad would be handed over to authorities on Sunday and then flown to the southern city of Davao.

The presidents spokesman Martin Andanar said Duterte was heading to Davao to receive Sekkingstad.

Norway said the release was a positive development, adding it was closely monitoring the situation and working with Philippine authorities to bring Sekkingstad to safety.

According to Philippine authorities, Sekkingstad is now in a relatively safe place, Norways foreign minister, Borge Brende, said in a statement.

We refrain from celebrating until Sekkingstad has been safely handed over to Philippine authorities.

Resort manager Sekkingstad was among a group seized by Abu Sayyaf from aboard yachts at an exclusive tourist resort on Samal island, about 500km to the west of Sulu.

Two of the other captives, Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, were beheaded in April and June respectively after demands for ransoms of 300 million pesos ($6.5m) each were not met.

Halls partner, Filipina Marites Flor, also among the four, was freed in June.

The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Ladens al-Qaida network.

It is based in remote Muslim populated southern islands of the mainly Catholic Philippines, and has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.

While its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to Isis, analysts say the group is mainly focused on a lucrative kidnapping business rather than religious ideology.

The group, which is blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history and listed by the US as a terrorist organisation, does not usually release hostages without ransom.

But regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said the release of the victim was the result of an offshoot of ongoing military operations … and the assistance of the MNLF.

Duterte last month ordered a military offensive to destroy the Abu Sayyaf, deploying thousands of troops as part of a major assault which has met fierce resistance.


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