Al Qaeda-linked militants free 2 Filipino hostages

Roland Letriro, left, and Ramel Vela, Filipino members of a Jordanian TV journalist's crew believed to have been kidnapped by al-Qaida-linked militants in June, recuperate in a hospital Sunday ,Feb. 3, 2013 after being freed the night before on the volatile island of Jolo, Sulu province in southern Philippines. AP Photo/Nickee Butlangan

MANILA, Philippines Abu Sayyaf gunmen have freed two Filipino members of a Jordanian TV journalist's crew believed to have been kidnapped by the al Qaeda-linked militants in June as they set out to interview the extremists in their jungle lairs in the southern Philippines, police said Sunday.

Policemen found frail-looking cameraman Ramel Vela and audio technician Roland Letriro late Saturday and brought them to a hospital in southern Sulu province, where they were kidnapped in June along with Jordanian Baker Abdulla Atyani, provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra said. Atyani is believed to still be held by the gunmen.

"They really lost weight because they were constantly under stress each day," Freyra told The Associated Press.

It was not immediately clear who worked for their release or whether ransom was paid to the kidnappers.

Military officials have said Abu Sayyaf militants have demanded 130 million pesos ($3.1 million) for the release of Atyani and his two Filipino crew members. Hundreds of rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal with the government, have also been negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of Atyani and other foreign hostages, including two European bird watchers who were abducted last February.

Moro commander Khabir Malik said his group had taken the initiative to seek the freedom of the hostages to help the government clean up the image of Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province where the Abu Sayyaf has carried out deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings, primarily in the early 2000s.

U.S.-backed military offensives have crippled the Abu Sayyaf in recent years, but it remains a national security threat. Washington has listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization.

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