MANILA, Philippines – Abu Sayyaf militants freed a businesswoman Wednesday by abandoning her near an airport in the southern Philippines after holding her in the jungle for more than three months, officials said.
The Abu Sayyaf gunmen left Sugar Diane Esperanza Buenviaje near the Jolo airport in Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province where the militants have held several foreign and Filipino kidnap victims in their jungle strongholds for years, police Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr. said.
Police escorted Buenviaje to southern Zamboanga city where she was to be checked by doctors and possibly undergo questioning by anti-kidnapping authorities.
Gunmen seized Buenviaje, who owns a construction supplies store on Mapun island in Tawi Tawi province, near Sulu, in February and took her away in a motorboat. Authorities suspect Buenviaje may have been taken by the same Abu Sayyaf militants responsible for last month's kidnapping of a Chinese tourist and a Filipino hotel worker from eastern Malaysia.
Two military officials in charge of monitoring kidnappings in the south said gunmen led by Abu Sayyaf commander Alhabsi Misaya kidnapped Buenviaje and released her after receiving an unspecified amount of ransom. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Cruz said he was not aware that ransom was paid in exchange for Buenviaje's freedom.
Misaya and his men are believed to be holding the Chinese tourist and Filipino hotel receptionist in Sulu jungles after seizing them from the Singamata Reef Resort in the Semporna district of Malaysia's Sabah state, the two officials said.
The kidnappings are a reminder of the threats still posed by the Abu Sayyaf, which has endured years of U.S.-backed Philippine military offensives.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network, has carried out kidnappings for ransom in the region before, alarming nearby countries like Malaysia. In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatched 21 European tourists and Malaysian and Filipino workers from Malaysia's Sipadan diving resort and brought them to the southern Philippines, where they eventually were released in exchange for large ransom payments.
In November, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants killed a Taiwanese tourist and kidnapped his wife from a resort in Semporna. She was released a month later in Sulu, about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen still hold several captives in Sulu, including two European bird watchers who were abducted two years ago.