2 Algerian-Filipino sisters gain freedom from Abu Sayyaf captivity
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 traveled to make a documentary about poor farmers, officials said.
Marine brigade commander Col. Jose Cenabre said Nadjoua and Linda Bansil were found at 5:43 p.m. 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 traveled 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.
Medmessiah Bansil, an elder brother of the kidnap victims, said they have yet to get full details of the release.
Cenabre said the freed victims would be brought to Zamboanga City.
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.
Guests of a sultan
Police said the women, who were guests of a Sulu-based sultan, did not coordinate 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 at least 10 gunmen in the village of Liang in Patikul.
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.
They were behind the 2013 Gawad Urian-nominated short film “Bohe, Sons of the Waves.”
They studied mass communication at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University.
Sheron Dayoc, the director of the independent film “Halaw—Ways of the Sea,” said the sisters were active members of Amnesty International when they were still in college.
Charlie Saceda of the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network based in Cebu City said the sisters trained with them in 2006 and 2007 “while they were students of the Ateneo de Zamboanga.”
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 kilometers (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.—With a report from Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao
Originally posted: 11:30 pm | Thursday, February 20th, 2014