Four Indonesian sailors kidnapped by suspected militants in the strife-torn southern Philipines were released Wednesday, officials said, the second group of Indonesian hostages to be freed this month.
Gunmen abducted the sailors on the high seas off the east coast of Malaysia's Sabah state on April 15, shooting and wounding another crew member.
Philippine Islamist group Abu Sayyaf was suspected of having carried out the kidnapping, the latest in a recent spree of abductions that saw them behead a Canadian hostage last month.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced in Jakarta that ‘four Indonesians held hostage by an armed group... have been released’.
‘All four Indonesians are in good condition. The hostage release was successfully conducted by good cooperation between the Indonesian government and the Philippines.’
The hostages were dropped off outside the house of the local governor on Jolo, a mountainous and jungle-clad island in the far south of the Philippines known to be an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
The Philippine military said the freed Indonesians were taken to a military base for medical check-ups.
‘Arrangements are now being finalised for the handover of the Indonesian nationals to Indonesian authorities,’ it added in a statement.
The group were abducted from a tugboat carrying coal that was sailing from Cebu in the Philippines back to Tarakan in Indonesian Borneo. Six other seamen, including the wounded man, managed to escape.
On May 1, 10 Indonesian sailors kidnapped five weeks earlier were also released on Jolo, and told harrowing tales about how the militants threatened to slit their throats.
Abu Sayyaf does not normally release hostages without a ransom.
The group is a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines. Its leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, but analysts say they are more focused on kidnappings for ransom than setting up a caliphate.
They are still holding at least seven other foreign hostages -- four Malaysians, a Canadian tourist, a Norwegian resort owner and a Dutch birdwatcher.
After the recent surge in kidnappings, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed last week to lauch joint patrols of a key waterway between their countries.
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