Gunmen free American woman in southern Philippines

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 03, 2011 12:58 AM
Gunmen free American woman in southern Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) - Muslim gunmen have freed a Philippine-born American woman after nearly three months in captivity on a remote southern island in the Philippines where al Qaeda-linked militants are active, but her son was not released, police said on Monday.

Police investigating reports of armed men in Maluso town on the southern island of Basilan found a dazed Gefra Lunsmann wandering in a village on the outskirts of the town at around 10 p.m. on Sunday, said Chief Inspector Dinar Hassan.

"She was very happy to see us but she looked weak," Hassan said, adding the woman, who is married to a German national, was taken to a police station and given food.

Gefra Lunsmann and her teenage son, Kevin Eric, were on vacation at a beachfront property on Tictabon island near the port city of Zamboanga when 14 gunmen abducted them on July 12 and took them to the jungle on Basilan island.

The U.S. embassy in Manila confirmed and welcomed Lunsmann's release.

Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat held a news conference on Monday and presented Lunsmann, who was wearing a white baseball cap and dark shirt, to the media.

She sat for a few minutes without speaking before security men, including U.S. law enforcement agents, took her away.

"The report indicates she was freed and was made to walk to the village," Lobregat said.

He said the gunmen had kept in communication with the woman's husband, adding that Lunsmann had not indicated if a ransom had been paid.

"From the quick response and the tight hug that she gave, she was happy to be released," he added. "Her son is still in captivity."

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Lobregat said he had been informed that the gunmen were supposed to free the mother and son together.

No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction, but authorities believe the gunmen are from a kidnap-for-ransom gang with ties to the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militant group.

In June, the United States, Britain and Australia warned their citizens against going to areas in the southern Philippines, particularly resorts and dive sites on Basilan, Jolo and Tawi-tawi areas, because of the danger of abduction and bombs.

(Reporting By Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair and Robert Birsel)