Freed Norwegian, 3 Indonesian hostages handed to Philippines

The Norwegian said he survived more than a dozen clashes between Philippine forces and his captors in the lush jungles of Sulu province.

The Norwegian government said the release of Sekkingstad was a "positive development".

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to crush the group and another similar Muslim extremist group operating in nearby provinces, the Abu Sayyaf group, that is also engaged in kidnap for ransom, killings and robberies.

In Davao, President Rodrigo Duterte was due to meet Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was kidnapped from a resort on the island of Samal in September 2015 alongside two Canadians who were beheaded earlier this year.

Abu Sayyaf demanded a huge ransom for the release of the foreigners, and released videos in which they threatened the captives in a jungle clearing where they displayed ISIL-style black flags.

Mr Ridsdel was beheaded in April and Mr Hall was decapitated in June after ransom deadlines lapsed. Flor was released also in June, a few weeks after Hall's execution. "They are hungry for a fight to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia", Duterte told troops Saturday, although his predecessors have regarded the militants as a loose collective of bandits.

It is now unclear which action caused the ASG to release Sekkingstad and the three Indonesian fishermen.

Marine Col. Edgard A. Arevalo, AFP Public Affairs Office chief, credited the release of the hostages to the intensified military operations being waged by the military against the ASG. In turn, said Dureza, Misuari received Sekkingstad from his captors on Saturday.

The transfer took place at the heavily guarded camp of another Muslim rebel leader, Nur Misuari, whose group assisted in the release, according to the government.

On Saturday, Sekkingstad, who had been held captive for almost a year, was set free.

Sekkingstad thanked Mr. Duterte, Dureza, Misuari and the Norwegian government for working for his release. "Dureza and everyone who contributed to the release", Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines Erick Forner said. "Now, if a third party or the family gives ransom, we do not know", Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar told local radio station dzRB.

GMA News said Philippine armed forces confirmed the matter Sunday afternoon.

On the five Malaysian tugboat crewmen abducted on July 18 near Lahad Datu, Octavio said they remained safe amid an ongoing offensive against the Abu Sayyaf gunmen.

Meanwhile, the three Indonesian fishermen were transported to Zamboanga City, where Minister Ryacudu was visiting during negotiations, and underwent medical examinations and debriefing at a military camp.

Also released were three Indonesians held by the group, who were also turned over to envoy Jesus Dureza.

The group, which is blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history and listed by the United States as a terrorist organisation, has been the target of a military operation since August.

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