MANILA, Philippines – Al-Qaida-linked militants in the southern Philippines on Saturday released an emaciated-looking Australian man near a coastal town where they kidnapped him for ransom 15 months ago.
Warren Richard Rodwell was brought to police by residents of Pagadian city who saw him walking before dawn near the fishing port, where his abductors dropped him off, said local police chief Julius Munez.
Rodwell "looked OK, just tired. But he looked like he lost a lot of weight," Munez said.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Bob Carr welcomed the news, saying Rodwell will be soon moved to a safe location. Carr said the release was a joint effort by authorities in both countries, and that the focus now was on Rodwell's speedy recovery.
Rodwell, a former Australian soldier who was married to a Filipino woman and had settled down in the southern Philippines, was kidnapped in December 2011 from his seashore house and taken by speedboat to nearby mountainous islands where Abu Sayyaf militants are hiding.
He had since appeared in several proof-of-life videos posted by the militants as negotiations for his release dragged on. His jungle captivity appeared to have taken a toll on his health as he appeared weaker in each video.
He was one of several foreigners abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in the restive region. Two Europeans are still being held alongside a Japanese man.
Military officials said that Rodwell was held in recent months in the militants' jungle hideouts on Basilan Island but had also been moved to nearby islands. Zamboanga del Sur, where he was released, is a short boat ride from Basilan.
The Abu Sayyaf is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. U.S.-backed Philippine military operations have crippled attacks and terrorist plots waged by about 350 militants, who split into several groups. But they remain a serious security threat in the impoverished region where minority Muslims have been fighting for self-rule for decades.
A Philippine security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said a ransom was paid for Rodwell's release, as was usually the case with other hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf over the last two decades.
"The Rodwell family has shown enormous courage throughout this ordeal," Carr said in a statement in Canberra, Australia. "All Australians would wish them well as Mr. Rodwell recovers from 15 months in captivity."
Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.