Ten Indonesians held hostage by the Philippines Abu Sayyaf militants have been freed,apparently after their company paid a million dollar ransom to the captors.
President Joko Widodo congratulated Indonesian and Philippines officials on securing the release of the hostages but did not mention paying any ransom.
However, various media reports from the Philippines and Indonesia confirmed the $1 million ransom demanded by Abu Sayyaf was paid. The brutal militant outfit thrives on lucrative kidnappings for ransom and they don't normally release hostages without being paid.
The hostages were dumped in front of the house of the Sulu provincial governor in Philippines' Jolo on Sunday.
Sulu police chief told the Inquirer unidentified people dropped the Indonesians in front of Governor Abdusakur Toto Tan's mansion.
"They were brought inside, they were fed. Governor Tan called me and they turned over the 10 to our custody. We are preparing now to bring the 10 to Zamboanga and turn them to their consular official," Wilfredo Cayat told the daily.
The Indonesians were abducted at gunpoint on 29 March, from the coal-laden tugboat and barge they were sailing to Batangas in southern Philippines.
The beheading of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel last week by his Abu Sayyaf captors in the Philippines had raised fears over the safety of the Indonesian sailors. The Canadian government had reportedly refused to pay the ransom demanded by the Isis-linked terror outfit.
An army officer involved in efforts to release the tugboat crewmen told the Jakarta Post it was tough to imagine the Abu Sayyaf freeing hostages without receiving money.
The officer told the daily that a rebel commander from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) helped negotiators reach out to the Abu Sayyaf for the release of the hostages.
The Philippines' Rappler also reported that the ransom was paid for the hostages' release, citing sources.
Earlier, The Star newspaper of Malaysia had reported that the Indonesian employer of the sailors agreed to pay the ransom.
"We are ready to do what is best for our crew member," a senior official of United Tractors said, the paper reported.
However, Jolo mayor Hussin Amin was miffed about reports of the ransom payment, the Jakarta Post said.
"If this big release came in exchange for money, those who paid are supporting the Abu Sayyaf ... This money will be used to buy more firearms and will be utilized as mobilization funds by these criminals," the mayor said.
Abu Sayyaf, which is trying to create an Islamic State in the southern Philippines, is holding at least 10 more hostages, including another Canadian.