JOLO, Philippines: Suspected Abu Sayaff militants in the southern Philippines have freed nine fishermen abducted in waters off Lahad Datu, Sabah, said Filipino and Malaysian authorities on Saturday (Jun 22).
The men told Philippine police that they were released off the coast of Jolo island on Friday evening. The militant group is known for funding its bombings and other armed attacks against security forces and civilians through ransom kidnappings.
"They ordered us to jump off the boat," said one of the men who identified himself as Gan Tuban.
Much to their relief, he said the water was shallow and the men, who were snatched at sea early Tuesday, walked until they ran into a Philippine police patrol on a street near the town of Talipao.
Sabah Police Commissioner Omar Mammah confirmed the release of the nine fishermen.
"They walked in a group after being released by the kidnappers who knew they had no money to pay," he told Bernama news agency.
Mr Omar also said that further discussions with the Philippine authorities were under way, as the kidnapped victims had no documents.
In Semporna, the wife of one of the victims said she received the news from her brother-in-law.
“My brother-in-law received a call on their release at 11am, maybe now they are with the military (of the Philippines) there,” said Hamidah Lallah, 22.
She added, however, that she has not been contacted by the police.
The southern Philippines is home to numerous armed groups, and Abu Sayyaf is notorious for kidnappings of foreigners.
The militants, who demand large ransoms and have beheaded several hostages, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Mr Omar said 10 fishermen were kidnapped on Tuesday, but the fate of the other victim was still unknown.
The freed men told AFP they were not aware of a 10th captive.
There has been a spate of kidnappings in the waters between the southern Philippines and the Malaysian part of Borneo in recent years. Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
Police took the freed captives to a military hospital on Saturday for a medical examination, though none of them appeared to have sustained any injuries.
Mr Omar said the freed hostages had no documents, and authorities from both countries will discuss where to send them.
"The discussions will be conducted before a decision is made because they (the victims) have no personal identity documents," he said.
Gan Tuban, who spoke the local Tausug language, said he was born in Borneo though his parents previously lived near Jolo.