Philippines Islamist group releases former Italian priest hostage

A retired Italian priest held hostage for six months by Islamist militants has left a Philippines hospital a day after his release, looking frail although officials say he is in good health.

Key points:

  • Rolando Del Torchio was found in a ferry docked on Jolo island on Friday
  • Not immediately clear if a ransom was paid for his release
  • Friday deadline for ransom on other hostages passes without word on their fate

A thin Rolando Del Torchio waved to journalists as he walked to a waiting ambulance after spending the night in a military hospital in the southern port of Zamboanga.

"The victim is emaciated. He has lost a lot of weight compared to what we saw in his old pictures," regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said.

"He is OK otherwise."

The Italian was held captive by the Abu Sayyaf group after armed men snatched the then 56-year-old at gunpoint at his pizza restaurant in the southern city of Dipolog in October last year.

"The ASG was behind this kidnapping," Major Tan said, referring to the group by its initials.

It was not clear where Father Del Torchio was headed, but the military spokesman said the Italian embassy had arranged for a chartered plane to fly him out of Zamboanga.

Philippine authorities found Father Del Torchio late on Friday aboard a ferry docked on the remote southern island of Jolo, the main Abu Sayyaf stronghold, located around 950 kilometres south of Manila.

Abu Sayyaf still holding foreign hostages

The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of Islamic militants infamous for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms, as well as for being behind deadly bombings in the mainly Catholic Asian nation.

Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group that controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Major Tan said he did not know if any ransom was paid to secure Father Del Torchio's release.

Father Del Torchio had worked as a missionary for the international organisation PIME in the south from 1998 before retiring in 2000 to set up his restaurant, his colleagues said.

The gunmen are holding nearly 20 other foreign hostages, all but one of them abducted since 2014.

The Abu Sayyaf last month posted a video of two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina they kidnapped in September last year and set an April 8 deadline for ransom to be paid or the foreigners would be killed.

The deadline passed on Friday with no word on their fates. The group beheaded a Malaysian tourist last year.

The latest groups of victims were 10 Indonesian and four Malaysian crew members snatched over the past two weeks from a tugboat and a cargo ship near the southern Philippines.

AFP

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