Abu Sayyaf extremists free Norwegian hostage in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Ransom-seeking Abu Sayyaf extremists on Saturday freed a Norwegian man kidnapped a year ago in the southern Philippines along with two Canadians who were later beheaded and a Filipino woman who has been released, officials said.

Kjartan Sekkingstad was freed in Patikul town in Sulu province and was eventually secured by rebels from the larger Moro National Liberation Front, which has a signed a peace deal with the government and helped negotiate his release, officials said.

Sekkingstad, held in jungle captivity since being kidnapped last September, was to stay overnight at the house of Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari in Sulu and then meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday, said Jesus Dureza, who advises Duterte on peace talks with insurgent groups.

A plan to fly the newly freed Norwegian out of Sulu, a jungle-clad Muslim region about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila, was canceled Saturday because of bad weather, Dureza said.

It was not immediately clear whether Sekkingstad was ransomed off. Duterte suggested in a news conference last month that a huge ransom had been paid to the militants but they continued to hold on to him anyway. The military said Saturday that relentless assaults forced the extremists to release the hostage.

Canadian John Ridsdel was beheaded in April and his compatriot, Robert Hall, was decapitated in June after huge ransom demands were not met. The Filipino woman was freed before Duterte came to power on June 30.

Government forces launched a major offensive against the militants after the beheadings of the Canadians sparked condemnations from then-Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
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