ZAMBOANGA, Philippines // The family of an Australian held hostage for 15 months in the southern Philippines paid Islamist militants almost Dh360,000 in ransom, a negotiator said, after Warren Richard Rodwell waded to freedom.
Al Rashid Sakalahul, vice governor of the strife-torn island province of Basilan, said late on Saturday he had negotiated Mr Rodwell's release with a feared leader of an extremist group known for beheading his victims.
The weak and emaciated 54-year-old former soldier was released on Saturday off Pagadian, a port city on Mindanao island some 100km east of where he was kidnapped on December 5, 2011.
Police quoted Mr Rodwell as saying he was left in a boat by his captors in waters between Basilan and Pagadian and told to row to safety. But the tide was out and Mr Rodwell had to wade through the mud to reach the shore.
The wharf supervisor Nathaniel Campos said he spotted the soaked and mud-splattered Australian as he waded ashore in darkness, and asked him if he was a tourist.
"No, I'm not a tourist. I am a kidnap victim. Please help me!" Mr Rodwell reportedly replied.
The ransom was substantially less than the US$2 million (Dh7.34 million) the kidnappers, members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, initially demanded after they broke into the house Rodwell shared with his Filipina wife in the town of Ipil.
Mr Sakalahul said he succeeded in getting them to reduce the sum to four million pesos (Dh359,000)
"It was really a tough negotiation but in the end, with God's help, we managed to secure the release of Rodwell," he said.
Mr Sakalahul said he came forward to deny speculation in Manila that "middlemen" had pocketed some of the ransom.
He said the negotiations were conducted with an emissary of Puruji Indama, an Abu Sayyaf commander in Basilan notorious for beheading and mutilating victims.
Both the Philippine and Australian governments have a no-ransom policy and Mr Sakalahul said they did not know of the payment.