Gunmen free American teenager in southern Philippines

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2011 11:18 PM
Gunmen free American teenager in southern Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) - Gunmen freed late on Saturday an American teenager after holding him for nearly five months on a troubled southern island in the Philippines, security officials said.

Kevin Eric Lunsmann, 14, who was abducted with his Philippine-born mother and a cousin while on holidays in July, was found by soldiers walking in a village outside Lamitan town on Basilan island, army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Randolph Cabangbang told reporters.

"He is safe and is now with our troops in Lamitan," Cabangbang said, but did not mention if ransom was paid. He said they will bring Lunsmann to an army hospital for medical checkup before handing him over to his family.

Kidnap-for-ransom is common in the southern Philippines, where government is dealing with Islamist militants and criminal gangs. A retired Australian army soldier was the latest kidnap victim in the south as Western governments issued travel advisories warning their citizens against trips to the southern Philippines.

Lunsmann and his mother were vacationing on Tictabon island near Zamboanga City in July when gunmen stormed their beachfront house and bundled them into boats and brought them to Basilan, hotbed of an al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf.

His mother, Gerfa, was freed in October near Maluso town on Basilan island while his cousin was released last month near the same town.

Authorities said a few thousand dollars were paid as "board and lodging" fee for the woman. "I have no information on the ransom," Alex Lineses, provincial police chief, told reporters.

"We are still verifying if he escaped or he was freed. What I can say now is he is safe with us."

(Editing by Greg McCune)