The Abu Sayyaf armed group has freed a Norwegian man held hostage in the southern Philippines for almost a year after a ransom was reportedly paid.
Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, was handed over on Jolo island, about 1,000km south of Manila on Saturday, after Abu Sayyaf received $638,000 in ransom for his release, said Abu Ramie, a spokesman for the armed group.
Sekkingstad was abducted from a high-end tourist resort in September 2015 alongside a Filipina woman, who has already been freed, and two Canadian men.
Philippine official Jesus Dureza said Sekkingstad was handed over to the rebel group Moro National Liberation Front. The MNLF is currently in peace talks with the government and had been working with authorities to secure Sekkingstad’s release.
“He is well,” Dureza said, adding that Sekkingstad would be handed over to authorities on Sunday and then flown to the southern city of Davao.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was reportedly heading to Davao to receive Sekkingstad.
Norway said the release was a “positive development”.
“According to Philippine authorities, Sekkingstad is now in a relatively safe place,” Norway’s Foreign Minister Borge Brende said in a written comment to the AFP news agency.
Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS), has entrenched its network in recent years with vast sums of ransom money.
The group released 14 Indonesian hostages earlier this year after negotiations and ransom terms were met.
Filemon Tan, a regional military spokesman, said the latest release was “an offshoot of the ongoing military operations to sustain pressure against” Abu Sayyaf.
“Simultaneous land, air, naval and police operations complemented each other putting pressure on the Abu Sayyaf,” the DPA news agency quoted Tan as saying.
After the swearing-in of Duterte on June 30, the country’s new military chief warned of a “shock and awe” offensive to wipe out Abu Sayyaf.
The United States and the Philippines have separately blacklisted the group as a “terrorist” organisation for bombings, extortion, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings of locals and foreigners, including Christian missionaries in the south.