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Filipino sisters freed from 8 months of captivity

- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Two Filipino sisters kidnapped by Muslim extremists eight months ago escaped from their captors in the jungles of the southern Philippines and told authorities they were kept in isolation in a hut on a meager diet.

Nadjoua and Linda Bansil were abducted by the brutal militant group Abu Sayyaf when they traveled to Jolo island, a militant stronghold, to make a video documentary about the lives of poor coffee farmers in the predominantly Muslim region.

The sisters were born in Algeria to an Algerian mother and a Filipino father but grew up in the Philippines, where they have produced independent films in recent years.

Philippine marines found them before nightfall Thursday in Buhanginan village in the mountainous town of Patikul, clad in black Muslim dresses that exposed only their eyes. One of the women was fondly cradling a cat, marine Capt. Ryan Lacuesta said.

"They said that their captors often kept them in isolation in the mountain and the cat gave them company and pleasure," Lacuesta told The Associated Press by telephone from Jolo.

He quoted one of the women as saying they had shared their food with the cat and that the pet they named Juanita was fatter than them. It wasn't clear how they acquired the cat.

He said that the women lost a lot of weight but were otherwise fine.

They were taken to a military trauma center in Jolo for a medical checkup, given a meal and then flown to southern Zamboanga city, where they were briefly presented to journalists. Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrerro did not allow the women to be interviewed, saying they were exhausted.

A brother of the women, Mohammed, told reporters he would accompany his sisters back home to their mother in Manila. He said he refrained from asking them details about their captivity until they recovered.

The Abu Sayyaf had demanded 50 million pesos ransom ($1.1 million) for the sisters' freedom, but Lacuesta said it was not clear if any money had changed hands. Constant military assaults and search operations put pressure the kidnappers to let go of their captives, he said.

The women said their captors moved them often from one jungle camp to another to avoid being found by government forces. They were fed rice, dried fish and root crops and often were detained in a hut. When a marine patrol approached Thursday, their guards ran away and the women dashed to freedom, Lacuesta said.

Abu Sayyaf militants still hold about a dozen hostages, including two European bird watchers kidnapped two years ago, in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, Sulu military commander Col. Jose Cenabre said.

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Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.

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