Swiss hostage freed in Philippines, recalls death threat

16th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

An elderly Swiss man rescued after two months held captive by suspected Islamist militants in the Philippines said Wednesday that his abductors had threatened to cut his throat.

A weary looking Carl Rieth, 72, also said he had suffered from exhaustion as his kidnappers moved him through rough terrain and to different safehouses in the remote south of the country that is home to Muslim rebels and bandits.

"It was a very trying and hard experience to go through something like that especially when you're supposed to be in a sedentary state," said Rieth, sporting a thick grey beard and with an intravenous drip attached to his arm.

Rieth was brought before reporters for a short press conference in the southern port city of Zamboanga within hours of his pre-dawn rescue from a nearby coastal village.

At least eight heavily armed men snatched Rieth, a businessman and a long-time resident of Zamboanga, from his beachfront home on April 4.

No one claimed responsibility for his abduction, although regional military chief Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino said Wednesday the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group was suspected of being behind the crime.

Asked how he had been treated by his captors, Rieth said they had initially threatened to kill him.

"At the beginning, the young ones were telling me...," he said as he demonstrated a knife slitting his throat.

But Rieth said he was relieved when their leader, who he knew only as "Abu Jahid", later told the other kidnappers to treat him with respect.

The military said security forces secured Rieth's freedom when, acting on a tip off, they rushed to the village, forcing the captors to flee without their hostage.

Both the military and police denied any ransom changed hands.

"No," Dolorfino said when asked about a ransom payment being paid.

However the official account of the incident, with no gunshots fired and the apparent ease of the captors' escape without their hostage, raised immediate suspicions that a ransom had been paid.

The kidnappers also released a video a few weeks ago in which Rieth was shown saying that they wanted at least 20 million pesos (435,000 dollars) in exchange for his freedom.

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.

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.

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 snatched locals as well as foreigners to secure often huge ransom rewards.

Ransoms are often paid to secure the hostages' freedom, even though authorities typically deny money is handed over.

Rieth looked thin and weary in his appearance before the media on Wednesday.

However Zamboanga health director Rodelyn Agbuyos, who examined him, said Rieth was in stable condition and was only a little dehydrated.

"He is doing good. He just needs rest," the doctor told AFP.

Rieth, who had a Swiss father and Filipina mother, said he learned nothing about his captors' identities.

© 2010 AFP

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