Palestinian Militants Release U.S. Hostage Abducted in Nablus

Previously unknown group said it kidnapped Michael Phillips, 24, to 'confront U.S. war on Islam.'

Palestinian militants in the West Bank late Wednesday released an American student they had held captive for nearly a day.

Michael Leighton Phillips, 24, was brought apparently unharmed to security headquarters in Nablus, where he was joined by a former mayor, Ghassan Shakaa, and a security chief, both members of the moderate Fatah movement.

It was unclear who had kidnapped him or how he was freed.

Earlier Wednesday, a previously unknown Palestinian armed group, Ansar Assuna, claimed it had kidnapped the American to "confront" the United States and force the release of some Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

"Our demands are the immediate release of all imprisoned women and minors," a masked member of Ansar Assuna told reporters in the Gaza Strip.

He said Phillips was abducted to "confront the American war on Islam."

Palestinian security officials said they had not heard of an Ansar Assuna cell in the territories, though groups by that name operate in Iraq and Lebanon.

The group faxed a copy of the Phillips's passport, Israeli visa and student identification card to news agencies.

Philips was working with an organization called Project Hope in refugee camps near the West Bank city of Nablus, teaching English.

Alaa Sanakreh of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades denounced the incident.

"We have no hand in this, and if it is true that he was kidnapped, it will harm the Palestinian people," he said, adding that his group is helping Palestinian police look for Phillips.

The reported kidnapping follows the abduction of two journalists working for the American Fox News Channel in the Gaza Strip in August, who were held captive for two weeks before being freed.