Priest released from kidnap ordeal

IRISH priest Fr Michael Sinnott, who was being held hostage by rebels in the Philippines, was released last night.

Fr Sinnott was kidnapped from his compound on October 11 by six gunmen who raided the Columban House in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province, some 890km south of Manila.

The priest, who turns 80 in December, had heart bypass surgery recently and concern had been raised about his medical condition.

Local reports quoted Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as saying Fr Sinnott was handed over to his government counterpart Rafael Seguis at around 4.22am (8.22pm Irish time) at the coastal village of Sangali.

Mr Iqbal said no ransom was paid for Fr Sinnott’s release.

His kidnappers were demanding $2m (€1.3m) for his release.

Western Mindanao military chief Major Benjamin Dolorfino, who took custody of Fr Sinnott, said the priest was frail but okay and had been examined by doctors.

He said Fr Sinnott told him he travelled for nine hours from where he was being held to Zamboanga City, from where he was taken to Sangali and released.

He said Fr Sinnott said he was originally brought to a mountain hideout by his captors and was later transferred to a mangrove area, probably in Lanao, where he was held for 10 days before being released.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said he was delighted and relieved that the St Columban missionary had been freed by his captors.

Mr Martin confirmed that the Irish Government had not paid any ransom for his release.

He said: “The release of Fr Michael represents the successful conclusion of a major diplomatic effort by the Irish and Philippine governments. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Philippine government and to the people of the Philippines for the excellent co-operation they extended to us in securing Fr Michael’s release.”

Taoiseach Brian Cowen also expressed his delight to learn of Fr Sinnott’s release.

“We are all relieved and thankful that Fr Michael’s difficult ordeal has been brought to an end and that all our prayers have been answered,” he said.

Spokesman for the Missions and Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Colm O’Reilly thanked people for their prayers over the past month for the release of the priest.

“I welcome the release of Fr Sinnott and thank the faithful for their prayers for his release,” he said.

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