Robredo: Abu Sayyaf holding Atyani, crew
MANILA, Philippines—Interior Secretary Jesse M. Robredo on Saturday confirmed that veteran TV journalist Baker Atyani of Al Arabiya and his two Filipino cameramen were being held hostage somewhere in the jungles of Sulu by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf.
“They are now being held against their will,” Robredo said in a text message to reporters. The two Filipinos were identified earlier as Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela.
Robredo said their captors had not asked for ransom as of the last contact on Friday with one of the Filipino cameramen.
The Jordanian foreign ministry was the first to confirm the abduction of the media team on Friday.
Robredo said the three were “technically not kidnapped as they were not taken by force or were abducted but they are now being held hostage.”
“While they remain unharmed and not threatened, they are now being prevented from leaving,” he said.
Robredo said the last contact was made on Friday with the company of one of the cameramen. “No (ransom) demand yet,” he added.
“The information is that all of them knew they were to do an interview with an Abu Sayyaf leader,” Robredo said.
Atyani, known for his interview of Osama bin Laden months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, arrived at Jolo airport at 10 a.m. on June 11 and interviewed Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan. Atyani and his team were last seen the next morning, June 12, boarding a multicab which had fetched them at their hotel.
No rescue yet
Robredo said no search-and-rescue operations had been launched by the police as yet, and the government “will wait and see.”
In Zamboanga, police and military authorities were still in the dark about what was going on.
Police and military authorities in western Mindanao yesterday said they still had no evidence that Atyani and his Filipino crew had been kidnapped despite confirmation the other day by the Jordanian foreign ministry.
Chief Supt. Manuel Barcena, head of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations, said they still had no evidence the Atyani team was being held hostage, complaining that Jordanian authorities had not coordinated with them.
Barcena said the problem was that Jordan had not coordinated with the police.
Jordanian foreign ministry spokesperson Sabah Rafei had also said on Friday that efforts were underway to free Atyani and his crew.
Atyani’s team is the third media abduction in Sulu. TV reporter Arlene de la Cruz was abducted in 2002 and held for over three months. She had gone to Sulu to try to interview Abu Sayyaf leaders, who were then holding American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham.
Ces Drilon and team
In 2008, an ABS-CBN network team led by reporter Ces Drilon to Sulu for a clandestine interview with the al-Qaida linked terror group. They also ended up being held hostage in the jungles of Sulu by a rebel group. At times during their captivity, and her two cameramen—Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama—and university professor Octavio Dinampo, said they were hogtied and threatened with beheading.
In both cases, their abductions were initially treated with disbelief by police and local officials, who believed they were just out there conducting interviews. Authorities disdain the media’s interest in getting the side of rebels. De la Cruz and the Drilon team emerged from the rebel lair with chilling and fearful hostage tales. It was also reported that in both instances, ransom was paid for their freedom.
The Abu Sayyaf is listed as a foreign-linked terrorist organization. The United States offers rewards up to $5 million for the capture of its leaders. Since 2006, US military advisers have been stationed in southwestern Mindanao to help the Philippine military and police fight this growing terrorist threat.
The Abu Sayyaf, linked to kidnappings and bombings, is known to have links with the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terror network. With reports from Julie Alipala and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao
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