Elderly Swiss man freed in Philippines
Security forces rescued an elderly Swiss man kidnapped over two months ago by suspected Islamist militants in a lawless part of the southern Philippines, the military said Wednesday.
Carl Rieth, 72, was abandoned in a coastal village outside the southern port city of Zamboanga by his captors, who fled after seeing police and army troops who rushed to the area following a tip from an informant, officials said.
"He was rescued before dawn at 3.00 am (1900 GMT Tuesday)," regional military chief Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino told AFP. "Follow up operations (against the kidnappers) are ongoing."
Rieth, who friends said suffered from pneumonia and a weak heart, was immediately rushed to a private hospital, according to Dolorfino.
His freedom came just weeks after his kidnappers released a video in which the frail-looking hostage pleaded to be freed.
In the video Rieth said his unidentified captors had demanded at least 20 million pesos (435,000 dollars) in exchange for his freedom, according to relatives and friends who saw the footage.
At least eight heavily armed men snatched Rieth, a businessman and a long-time resident of Zamboanga, from his beachfront home on April 4.
Rieth had a Swiss father and Filipina mother and was well-respected within the local business community, friends said.
No one claimed responsibility for his abduction, although Dolorfino said the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group was suspected of being behind the crime.
"That's our initial information but it is still being verified," Dolorfino said.
The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of Islamic militants on the US government's list of foreign terrorist organisations that is well known for staging kidnappings for ransom in the southern Philippines.
The group is also blamed for the Philippines' worst terrorist attacks, including the 2004 bombing of a passenger ferry that killed over 100 people in Manila Bay.
However a complex array of other Muslim armed groups and pirates operate in the southern Philippines and have for years also snatched locals as well as foreigners to secure often huge ransom rewards.
Elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group that has been waging a separatist insurgency in the southern Mindanao region since the 1970s, have also been involved in kidnappings.
Ransoms are often paid to secure the hostages' freedom, even though authorities typically deny money is handed over.
In Rieth's case, both the military and police denied any ransom changed hands.
"No," Dolorfino said when asked about a ransom payment being paid.
Local police chief Senior Superintendent Edwin de Ocampo told reporters in Zamboanga that at least one of the eight gunmen who seized Rieth was believed to be also involved in the kidnapping of an Irish missionary last year.
The missionary, Michael Sinnott, was freed in November after more than a month in captivity in the hands of Muslim bandits who had demanded a two-million-dollar ransom.
The Irish government, Sinnott's superiors and local authorities said no ransom was paid in that case.
The Abu Sayyaf last year also kidnapped an Italian, a Swiss national and a Filipina working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
They were subsequently freed allegedly after ransoms were paid, a claim that the ICRC and governments involved denied.
In one of their most notorious acts, the Abu Sayyaf beheaded one of three American hostages they seized from a resort on Palawan island in 2001. One of the other hostages was killed during a rescue attempt over a year later.
© 2010 AFP