Abu Sayyaf frees 2 German hostages

MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – The Abu Sayyaf released its two German hostages Friday evening, October 17, and they are now in Manila.

"The 2 German nationals arrived in the Villamor Airbase at 6:45am today. The Embassy of Germany have made arrangements for this and have taken custody over them," said military spokesperson Major General Domingo Tutaan in an SMS message Saturday morning, October 18.

The hostages Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Dielen, 55, were released shortly before 9 pm Friday in Patikul, Sulu, senior intelligence sources and a high-ranking police official told Rappler.

The two were brought to the headquarters of the Philippine military at Camp Bautista in Jolo, Sulu and later transported to Zamboanga City, where they got further medical attention and waited for their flight to Manila.

"The kidnap victims will proceed to Zamboanga City through a naval vessel. The naval clinic and bed facilities are being prepared while awaiting for immediate flight to Manila," read a situtation report Friday evening by Brigadier General Carlito Galvez, the deputy commander of Western Mindanao Command, forwarded by Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr to the media.

Abu Sayyaf spokesman Aboo Rami confirmed in a radio interview that they received a P250 million ransom. 

The release happened after ransom was paid, intelligence sources confirmed. They told Rappler that two Germans arrived in Jolo, Sulu, Friday to bring the payment to a conduit.

Intelligence reports said the two were turned over to government troops at 8:54 pm "after successful negotiations" with the Abu Sayyaf. The German nationals arrived at the military camp at 9:20 pm, the same reports said. They immediately underwent medical check-up at the military hospital.

The military later confirmed the timeline of the release. "They are now undergoing medical check up," military spokesman Major General Domingo Tutaan said in a 1030pm SMS message.

6 months 

The release ends the 6-month-long captivity of Okonek and Dielen, who were taken by the Abu Sayyaf in April while they were on board a yacht off Palawan. 

They left behind 13 others hostages including European birdwatchers Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, who  were abducted in February 2012.

Little was heard about the 2 German hostages until the Abu Sayyaf threatened to behead one of them if its demands are not met – P250 million ransom and the withdrawal of German troops from the US-led war against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East. 

The deadline was set at 3 pm Friday, October 17. The Abu Sayyaf would step up pressure on the German hostages by putting Okonek on the radio to repeatedly air his appeal to authorities

The Abu Sayyaf also released on Thursday photos of Okonek sitting in the middle of a freshly dug grave, some masked men pointing their rifles at him while others were holding the black flag first associated with the Al-Qaeda and now the ISIS.

On Friday morning, the Abu Sayyaf extended the deadline by 2 hours from 3pm to 5pm. 

Early in the afternoon, Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Aboo Rami was interviewed again over the radio. The military had apparently taken positions near the Abu Sayyaf camp. He demanded their pullout. He put Okonek on air again to send a message to his family. 

Authorities noted the “silence” of the Abu Sayyaf following the early afternoon interview. 

Later at 5pm, a chopper landed at the Sulu airport and took off an hour later. But the source in Sulu does not have information on who the passengers were. 

The Western Mindanao Command was also ordered to prepare air assets early evening on Friday.

Germany confirms talks

The German government confirmed it had sent an envoy to the Philippines.  

A German foreign ministry spokesman said its crisis team officer Ruediger Koenig had been sent by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Koenig's task was "to take part in everything that serves the goal of winning the freedom of the two German hostages in the hands of Abu Sayyaf, and this process continues," the spokesman said in a regular ministry press conference.  – with a report from Agence France-Presse