A retired Italian priest abducted six months ago in the southern Philippines by suspected Islamic militants was released on Friday, police and the Italian government said.
Rolando Del Torchio was picked up at a port on the remote island of Jolo, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf group, national police spokesman Wilben Mayor, told AFP.
The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of militants infamous for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms.
Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group that controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.
It is believed to be currently holding nearly 20 other foreigners.
Mayor said Del Torchio was in poor health when he was found in the early evening inside a boat at the port on Jolo, a mainly Muslim-populated island about 950km (590 miles) south of Manila.
“The… team decided to bring the kidnap victim to the Trauma Centre (a local military hospital) where he will be taken care of by a military doctor,” Mayor said.
Gunmen snatched Del Torchio, then 56, at gunpoint at his pizza restaurant on the city of Dipolog, about 400km northeast of Jolo, in October last year.
Del Torchio had worked as a missionary for the international organisation PIME in the south from 1998 before retiring in 2000 to set up his restaurant, colleagues told AFP shortly after he was abducted.
The identities of the kidnappers were never confirmed. But authorities said they suspected he was taken by boat to the Abu Sayyaf.
“No further details as of this time,” Mayor replied by text when asked which group had kidnapped Del Torchio and whether a ransom was paid for his release.
The Italian foreign ministry released a statement on Friday confirming Del Torchio’s freedom and thanking local authorities for their help.
“Italian national Rolando Del Torchio… was released today and is currently in the custody of the Philippine authorities,” the statement said.
“The foreign ministry thanks the Manila authorities for their excellent cooperation and commitment, which permitted the release of the Italian national.”
The Abu Sayyaf was established in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.
It was a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the southern Philippines that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since the 1970s.
Mostly based on Jolo, the group has been blamed for the country’s worst terror attacks, including a 2004 Manila Bay ferry bombing that claimed 116 lives.
But kidnappings in the south have been its main signature, using huge ransoms to buy more arms and boats.
A rotating contingent of about 500 US Special Forces troops were deployed in the southern Philippines from 2002 to 2014 to train Filipino troops how to defeat the Abu Sayyaf.
Many of the Abu Sayyaf’s leaders were killed or captured during that time, and the group was degraded from roughly 1,000 gunmen to about 300, according to authorities.
But after the US troops were withdrawn, the Abu Sayyaf quickly re-emerged as a kidnapping force.
Two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina were abducted in September last year from yachts in a harbor in the southern Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf has posted videos of those captives on the Internet, and demanded millions of dollars for their freedom.
The gunmen set a deadline of Friday for the money to be paid or the Canadians and Norwegian would be killed. But the deadline passed with no word on their fates.
The group beheaded a Malaysian tourist last year.
The latest groups of victims were 10 Indonesian and four Malaysian crew members snatched over the past two weeks from a tugboat and a cargo ship near the southern Philippines.
The kidnapping spree followed the reported payment of millions of dollars for the release of a German couple in 2014, which allowed the militants to buy better boats and arms.
The group is also believed to be holding a Dutch bird watcher abducted in 2012.
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