Philippines: Kidnapped German Couple, In Captivity Since April, Back in German Hands
According to AFP and MSN, two German citizens kidnapped by Islamic militants in the Philippines are safely back at the German Embassy in Manila, officials said Saturday (October 18) after a harrowing six-month ordeal in which they endured threats of beheading and seemingly routine cruelty.
Officials said a private aircraft flew Stefan Okonek, in his 70s, and his partner, Henrike Dielen, in her 50s, to Manila from the southern port of Zamboanga at dawn after the Abu Sayyaf gunmen released them late Friday (October 17).
"With the release from captivity of the two German nationals, our security forces will continue efforts to stem the tide of criminality perpetrated by bandit elements," President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said in a statement.
"We thank the government of the Philippines for their close collaboration, undertaken with full confidence," the spokesman added.
The Abu Sayyaf had given the German government until Friday (October 17) to pay a $5.6 million ransom and withdraw its support for US offensives against jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
The group also threatened to behead one of the hostages unless the demands were met.
Philippine authorities said the two hostages were snatched at sea in April as they sailed near the western Philippine island of Palawan.
During their captivity, believed spent on the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Jolo island, the kidnappers who are notorious for cruelty used the press and social media to threaten the hostages' lives and force Berlin to pay the ransom.
The couple were forced to beg for their lives in telephone calls to a local radio station as well as uploads of video clips on the Internet.
In one video clip Okonek stood on a hole in the ground that he said he was told it would become his grave. In another he screamed in pain as his kidnappers hit him repeatedly on the head.
COMMENT: Regardless of what steps the German government had to do to secure the couple's release, it is noteworthy that Germany values the safety of its hostages.
There is no public confirmation that the $5.6 million ransom was paid. It is doubtful that the German Foreign Ministry will confirm or deny what was necessary to secure the couple's release.
The important fact is that Stefan Okonek, and his partner, Henrike Dielen, are no longer in in the perilous hands of Abu Sayaaf.
Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda, recently pledged alliance to the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, claimed Friday they collected "no more, no less" than their ransom demand.
Labeled a terrorist group by the United States and Philippine governments, the Abu Sayyaf is a loose band of a few hundred militants founded in the 1990s by Abdurajak Janjalani, an Islamic preacher and veteran of the Afghanistan war.
Aby Sayyaf has kidnapped dozens of foreign aid workers, missionaries and tourists in the southern Philippines in recent years.
By ransoming off its hostages for millions of dollars the group was able to raise funds to buy more arms, and it cemented its brutal reputation by beheading some of its captives, including a US tourist seized in 2002.
Abu Sayaaf is believed to be holding at least 13 other hostages, including five foreigners, according the Philippine military.
I retired from the US State Department in April 2006, after a career as a special agent, Senior Regional Security Officer (SRSO), director of training, chief investigator of the Cyprus Missing Persons Program, director of security of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and as a senior adviser in the Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance.
My book, STAYING SAFE ABROAD: TRAVELING, WORKING AND LIVING IN A POST-9/11 WORLD was published in May 2008.
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I am a former Federal Firearms Dealer (US), a certified NRA pistol instructor and a certified NRA Range Safety Officer.
My career has also included 15 years as an international security consultant; for ten years I served as the security adviser to the Inter-American Development Bank.
I additionally, served six years in the Marines, which included combat service in Vietnam.
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