Two German hostages who were being held by Islamic militants in the Philippines have been released in return for a ransom sum of £3.5million (€5.65million), their captors have claimed. The pair were sailing on board their yacht between Malaysia and the Philippines when they were captured by Abu Sayyif, an Islamic group supportive of ISIS, who subsequently demanded money and the withdrawal of German troops from action in Syria and Iraq.
No official statement has been made regarding who gave the money, but German officials are known to have been negotiating the couple’s release.
Stefan Okonek, a 72-year-old retired professor of toxicology and his girlfriend Henrike Dielen, 55, had been threatened with beheading by the group in mid-September, as Breitbart London reported at the time. A deadline for the demands was set for last Friday. When the news first broke, a German foreign ministry spokesman confirmed that the government had received the report, but stressed “threats are now an appropriate way to influence our policy in Syria and Iraq.” She also confirmed that “there will be no change to our Syria and Iraq policy.”
With the deadline looming, it is understood that the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier sent the government’s crisis commissioner Rüdiger König to the Philippines on Thursday with instructions to “participate in anything that will serve the goal of freeing the hostages from the hands of Abu Sayyaf”.
On Friday, Abu Rami, a spokesman for the group, told a local radio station “we released the two Germans”. He also claimed that the ransom had been paid. Roberto Fajardo, head of the Philippine anti-kidnapping task force confirmed that the pair “are safely in a military camp.”
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ armed forces chief General Gregorio Catapang told AFP that the couple had been released from where they were being held on Jolo Island, about 600 miles south of Manilla, adding that he had no information on the ransom payment. “We do not negotiate with terrorists,” he said on DZMM radio.
Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed on Friday that the hostages had arrived at its embassy in Manila. “We are relieved to confirm that the two Germans are no longer in the hands of their kidnappers. They are being taken care of at the embassy in Manila. We thank the government of the Philippines for their close collaboration, undertaken with full confidence,” said a spokesman.
No details were given by any party on who provided the money; the German government has also not ordered any withdrawal of the troops currently in Iraq, where they are training Kurdish Peshmerga forces in use of weapons that the German government has donated towards the fight against ISIS.
Ten further hostages are currently being held by Abu Sayyaf, which has a history of kidnapping foreigners in return for ransom monies. Amongst the dozens of missionaries, tourists and aid workers kidnapped were retired Australian soldier Warren Rodwell and Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, both of whom were released last year for ransoms after being held for over a year.
In 2007, Abu Sayyaf killed 14 marines who were attempting to rescue a captured Italian priest. Ten of the marines were beheaded by the group. The priest was later released.
And in 2004, the group was responsible for the Philippine’s worst terrorist incident: the bombing of a ferry off Manilla Bay, killing 116 people.
Abu Sayyaf was set up using seed funding supplied by Osama bin Laden’s brother in law, and aims to instil an Islamic state in the Philippines, which is currently mostly Catholic. Although the American military has a rotating deployment to the area to train locals to fight against the group, the organisation also has a local following and simply recruits more members from amongst local tribal Islamic populations to replace any lost personnel. They use the money raised from ransoms principally to buy weaponry, cementing their reputation as brutal killers.