MANILA, Philippines – They are safe but they need time to recuperate.
With veils covering their faces, sisters Nadjoua and Linda Bansil faced the media a day after their abductors released them, marking the end of their 8-month ordeal.
The sisters, however, did not speak during the entire press conference.
Their brother Mohammed – who acted as their spokesperson during the press conference – said he himself has not had the chance to speak to his sisters about their ordeal. (READ: Mohammed’s sisters)
“Maybe we will get to that later. Kasi mahirap maghanap. Kasi kahit ako hindi ko pa alam kung paano magtatanong sa kanila e (It’s difficult to probe. I myself… I don’t know how to ask them.),” Bansil said.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) freed the Bansil sisters on Thursday, February 20, a total of 8 months after they were abducted while working on an independent film about coffee growers in Mindanao.
Rappler interviewed Mohammed Bansil after the abduction. He had this to say then: “Like my heart stopped beating. Like my life stopped moving. You know, like your life is on pause. I have to stop working. My kids, I don’t get to talk to them anymore. I can’t sleep. I sleep 3 hours, I get a text message and I jump. My mind is flying all the time. My mind is with my sisters, my heart is with them. At any moment anything can happen.”
On Thursday afternoon, his sisters were recovered by the Marines in sitio Kantatang Buhanginan in Patikul, Sulu Thursday afternoon. He was in Jolo to welcome them.
The sisters are still exhausted and in no condition to be interviewed, said Western Mindanao Command chief Lt General Rustico Guerrero.
Bansil said his sisters lost “at least 40% of their body weight.” They are set to fly back to Manila Friday.
“Plano namin actually is umuwi muna kasi pagod kami. Alam na ng mama ko…Sinabi ko na lang na nasa kamay ko na,” Bansil said.
(Our plan is to go back home because we are tired. My mother already knows. We did not keep it from her. I just told her they’re already in my hands.)
Bansil’s mother is an Algerian Moroccan while their father, Abdulbassit Bansil, is a Muslim cleric — a close associate of the founding leaders of the Philippines’ two largest armed Muslim movements – the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Recovery, not ransom
Guerrero neither confirmed nor denied whether a ransom was paid for the sisters’ release.
“Previous reports in July of last year said there’s a demand for P50 million. That’s based on reports earlier we received. But for this specific instance, what happened was recovery because they were recovered by the combined efforts of the police, the military and the local government,” he said.
“What you are asking about – ransom – we can not answer that, but suffice it to say that they were recovered in a safe and secure manner so we want to give them time to recover from the trauma,” he added.
Classified documents obtained and verified by Rappler showed the kidnappers were demanding P50 million (or about US$1.2 million) in ransom for the sisters.
Police reports said the Bansil sister “escaped” from their kidnappers Thursday afternoon. But Rappler sources privy to the operations said the ASG unit that were holding the sisters forced to free them after a series of military operations in the area.
Guerrero said there will be “no let-up” in security operations in Sulu, as well as other areas in Western Mindanao, against the Abu Sayyaf.
Two European bird watchers are still being held captive by other ASG factions.
In March 2013, the group released Australian Warren Rodwell after holding him for 15 months. An undisclosed amount of ransom was paid for his release.
In December 2013, police found Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani walking along a road in Patikul after managing to escape from his captors. – Rappler.com