Ransom of $97,750 paid for freed Australian hostage: report

Posted at 03/24/13 8:33 AM


SYDNEY (UPDATE 2) - Islamic militants in the lawless southern Philippines were paid P4 million or US$97,750 for the release of Australian Warren Rodwell who survived 15 months in captivity, a report said on Sunday.

An emaciated Rodwell, a former soldier, 54, was released at Pagadian, a port city on Mindanao island, Saturday, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of where he was kidnapped on December 5, 2011.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation cited a police video showing Rodwell as telling Filipino officers he was "put in a boat and told to paddle for his life" by his captors.

Philippine and Australian authorities refused to say if a ransom was paid, but Australia's Fairfax Media cited the key negotiator as revealing the equivalent of $97,750 or P4 million pesos was handed over.

This was substantially less than the $2 million or P80 million the kidnappers, members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, had initially demanded soon after they broke into the house Rodwell shared with his Filipina wife in Ipil town.

The negotiator, Al Rashid Sakalahul, told Fairfax the kidnappers were demanding some $400,000 or P16 million when he became involved in the case several weeks ago.

But what they accepted was nowhere near that amount, he said.

"It was really a tough negotiation but in the end, with God's help, we managed to secure the release of Rodwell," Sakalahul, vice-governor of the southern Philippine province of Basilan, told Fairfax.

He said he was revealing how much was paid to douse speculation he benefited from negotiating with the kidnappers.

"I don't want to be accused by anyone that I benefited from this negotiation -- that's why I came up with this admission," he said.

"My only mission is to save the life of Rodwell by getting him out of the Abu Sayyaf."

Sakalahul said he did not know where the money was sourced but it was passed through Rodwell's wife Miraflor Gutang and her brother Roger.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Canberra did not pay any money.

"Just be clear that the Australian government never pays ransoms," he told the ABC.

"I won't comment on arrangements that may have been made by Mr Rodwell's family and Abu Sayyaf, made through the Philippines anti-kidnapping unit and their police force."

Rodwell was Saturday flown by helicopter to a military base in Zamboanga, one of the major cities in the southern Philippines, where he received medical treatment.

Reports said he was expected to remain in hospital for up to a week.

The Abu Sayyaf is one of many armed Islamist groups operating in the southern Philippines, which has been home to a deadly Muslim separatist insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives since the 1970s.

It is believed to have only a few hundred members but has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in recent Philippine history. It also has a history of kidnapping foreigners, Christians and local business people for ransom.

Nigel Brennan, an Australian photojournalist who was held hostage for 462 days after he was kidnapped in Somalia in 2008, said Rodwell would find it tough to overcome his trauma.

"I hope the media will give Warren Rodwell space when he comes home as they did with me. He will need time with family and friends to recover," he tweeted.

"15 months in isolation as a hostage is something a person should never have to endure."