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Filipino militants released an elderly Irish priest late on Wednesday night after holding him in captivity for 32 days. Father Michael Sinnott had worked in the Philippines for nearly 33 years when six armed gunmen kidnapped him from a gated compound in Pagadian City on Oct. 11. He was released into the custody of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which turned him over to government authorities on Thursday morning.
Although militants released a video in November in which Fr. Sinnott said his captors would release him in exchange for $2 million, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs says that he was released without any ransom payments.
Michael Martin, Ireland's foreign affairs minister told reporters that refusing to pay any ransom was in line with his country's policy to discourage future kidnappings, reports the Guardian. Paying kidnappers would set a precedent that endangers Irish citizens and "jeopardised the vital work of aid workers and missionaries around the world," he said.
According to a high-ranking member of MILF, the rebel group acted as an intermediary between the kidnappers and the government as a goodwill gesture to show their commitment to peace, reports The Philippine Star. Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF's vice chairman of political affairs, added that his organization would help bring the kidnappers to justice and "expressed disappointment" in response to claims that the abduction had been carried out by a rogue, MILF splinter group.
Filipino police and military authorities later identified Sinnott's captors as part of a pirate band that eventually turned the priest over to a rogue element of MILF, reports Tempo, a Filipino newspaper.
Despite the potential involvement of a MILF-linked organization, the Filipino government praised the Muslim separatist group for its assistance and cooperation throughout the kidnapping. Major General Ben Dolorfino, a Filipino official, called the group's actions a "big confidence-building measure in forthcoming peace talks," reports the Daily Telegraph.
Sinnott has a serious heart condition and there were many concerns about his health while in captivity. However, after a clinical assessment doctors said he is "as well as can be expected in the circumstances," reports the Irish Times. Speaking to reporters at the Manila airport on Thursday morning, the priest also appeared in good humor.