Filipino militants free US woman, still hold son

AP News
Posted: Oct 03, 2011 5:18 AM
Filipino militants free US woman, still hold son

Muslim militants freed a Filipino-American woman after 2 1/2 months of captivity in the jungles of the southern Philippines but are still holding her 14-year-old son and another relative, authorities said Monday.

Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann was dropped off by boat late Sunday at a wharf and walked to nearby Maluso township on southern Basilan Island, where she was picked up by a patrolling police team, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang.

Lunsmann was "physically healthy" but visibly traumatized by her ordeal and was worried that her son remained in captivity, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo told The Associated Press. She did not reply at times when people tried to talk to her or ask her questions, he said.

Lunsmann appeared gaunt and worried, clasping her hands, when she appeared before reporters with Philippine officials and FBI agents. She was not allowed to talk and was later flown to Manila, where she underwent a medical checkup.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants snatched Lunsmann, her son and her nephew on July 12 while they were vacationing with relatives on an island near southern Zamboanga city. In a July 17 cellphone call to the captives' relatives in Virginia that was traced to Basilan, the hostage-takers demanded a huge ransom, according to Philippine officials.

Robredo said the kidnappers had talked with Lunsmann's family in the United States and at one time allowed her to talk on the phone as proof that she was alive.

The U.S. and Philippine governments did not pay any ransom for her release, Robredo said, but added he was unaware if any private group paid for her freedom.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that Lunsmann's release "could not have occurred without the concerted efforts of Philippine government officials" and Zamboanga Mayor Celso Lobregat's personal engagement.

Lunsmann, a 41-year-old veterinarian who lives in Virginia, was born to a Muslim family near Zamboanga. She was adopted by an American couple as a child and grew up in the United States. She has visited her Philippine home province at least five times before, police said.

Ransom kidnappings have long been a problem in the impoverished region and are blamed mostly on the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, a group also notorious for beheadings and bombings.

Two Philippine security officials, however, said former Muslim rebels who have turned to kidnappings for ransom may have abducted the Lunsmanns and brought them to Basilan, where they held them with the help of the Abu Sayyaf and rogue members of a larger rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

What Does Female Empowerment Mean?
Dennis Prager

Muslim militants and outlaws have resorted to such loose underground alliances in recent years, underscoring their desperation for funds, said the two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

The Abu Sayyaf was founded on Basilan in the 1990s as an offshoot of a violent Muslim insurgency that has been raging for decades. U.S.-backed offensives have weakened the group, which is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization, but it remains a key security threat.

Hundreds of U.S. troops are stationed in the southern Philippines, including Basilan, to train and equip Philippine forces but are prohibited from engaging in local combat.

The Abu Sayyaf, which is estimated to have about 380 fighters, still holds an Indian, a Malaysian and a Japanese convert to Islam, along with a number of Filipino hostages.


Associated Press writer Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.