Philippine kidnappers fired shots to thwart escape bids

An Australian ex-soldier just freed by Philippine extremists has recounted how his kidnappers fired shots to stop him escaping during his 15-month ordeal, a police officer said Sunday.

Even when finally released, Warren Rodwell had to paddle a boat to a distant town and wade ashore through the mud to reach safety, said Inspector Eurem Macasil, the first policeman to meet him.

Rodwell, 54, was abducted from his home in the southern Philippine town of Ipil on December 5, 2011 and was freed by members of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group before dawn Saturday after extensive negotiations.

The militants were paid US$97,750 in ransom, a negotiator said.

Wharf supervisor Nathaniel Campos was the first person to spot the Australian as he waded ashore in darkness in the port city of Pagadian.

A surprised Campos asked the soaked and mud-splattered foreigner if he was a tourist.

"No, I'm not a tourist. I am a kidnap victim. Please help me!" Rodwell replied.

Campos took Rodwell to the nearby headquarters of the Pagadian maritime police where Macasil offered him a cup of coffee.

Rodwell was so weak he could barely bring the cup to his lips, Macasil said.

He told the police officer some of his experiences, like how his captors had repeatedly transferred him from one small island to another to elude pursuit.

During his captivity, he was not shackled or caged but was always closely watched by the gunmen.

"He said he had several opportunities to escape but was not successful. They would open fire and force him to stop," said Macasil.

"He said he was worried after he heard in a conversation (among the gunmen) that there was an (armed) encounter and that they cut off someone's head," the police officer said.

Rodwell said he was in the southernmost island group of Tawi-Tawi, near the maritime border with Malaysia, when the gunmen took him by boat to Pagadian to release him.

They left him in a rowboat off Pagadian and told him to paddle to safety. But when he reached the shore, the tide was out and was forced to wade through the mud.

Rodwell was later picked up by Philippine and Australian authorities who flew him to the southern city of Zamboanga, where he is receiving medical attention at a major military base.

His kidnappers, the Abu Sayyaf, are a Muslim extremist group that was founded in the early 1990s with seed money from al-Qaeda chieftain Osama bin Laden.

The group has been blamed for the country's worst terror attacks including a series of bombings and kidnappings, mainly targeting foreigners and Christians.