MANILA, Philippines— Philippine marines found two Lebanese-born Filipino sisters on Thursday who either escaped or were freed by Abu Sayyaf extremists after eight months of jungle captivity on a dangerous southern island where they travelled to make a documentary about poor farmers, officials said.
Marine brigade commander Col. Jose Cenabre said Nadjoua and Linda Bansil were found before nightfall in Buhanginan village in mountainous Patikul town on Jolo island.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen abducted the sisters on June 22 last year in Patikul in Sulu province, where they travelled to do a video documentary called “Cafe Armalite,” about the lives and culture of poor coffee farmers in the predominantly Muslim region.
“It’s either they escaped or were left behind by the Abu Sayyaf because even villagers now are helping the military hunt them down,” Cenabre said by telephone.
The Abu Sayyaf had demanded a ransom in exchange for the sisters’ freedom but Cenabre said it was not clear if money had changed hands. Constant military assaults and search operations helped pressure the kidnappers to let go of their captives, he said.
Police said the women, who were guests of a Sulu-based sultan, did not co-ordinate with police before their trip to violence-prone Patikul. They reportedly visited Mount Sinumaan, a rugged mountainous area where the Abu Sayyaf maintains a camp, and were on their way back to the provincial capital of Jolo when they were stopped by the gunmen.
The sisters were born in Algeria from an Algerian mother and a Filipino father but grew up in the Philippines, where they have produced independent films in recent years.
Abu Sayyaf militants still hold about a dozen hostages in the jungles of Sulu, including two European bird watchers who were kidnapped two years ago, Cenabre said.
The militants are active in Sulu, an impoverished province about 950 kilometres (590 miles) south of Manila, where they have survived in their jungle camps despite years of U.S.-backed Philippine offensives.
Abu Sayyaf militants, who have had past links with al-Qaida-affiliated radicals, are notorious for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. Washington has listed the Abu Sayyaf, which is estimated to have more than 300 armed fighters, as a terrorist organization.