• Atyani links Filipino newsman to kidnapping

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    ZAMBOANGA CITY: Former Abu Sayyaf hostage, Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, blamed a Filipino journalist for his capture by the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group in the southern Philippines.

    Atyani, the Pakistan bureau chief of Al-Arabiya television, hadsneaked into camps of the terror group along with his two Filipino assistants, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, to film Moro National Liberation Front and leaders of the Abu Sayyaf that authorities have linked to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, but were taken prisoner. His two Filipino companions were freed in February 2013.

    Filipino authorities said Atyani deceived local officials after he claimed to be filming government projects in Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

    Provincial officials had repeatedly warned Atyani against interviewing the Abu Sayyaf, but the trio went ahead and secretly met with terrorist leaders, among them Nadzmie Alih. They were first reported missing after failing to return to their hostel in Jolo town, but phoned local officials two days later to say that they were still filming a documentary on the Abu Sayyaf until the terror group detained them.

    Speaking on Al Arabiya’s Panorama program, Atyani told his ordeal in the hands of his captors and said the unnamed journalist whom he met in the Philippines may be involved in his kidnapping.

    “I cannot accuse him directly, but there are many indicators that make me point a finger at him. He might have been involved in kidnapping me. I mean, he might have known that there is a kidnapping process, and he might have handed me to this group in order to get a share of the ransom which will probably be paid,” Atyani said.

    He said one of the Abu Sayyaf bandits told him that they were provided information about him and his trip to Sulu.

    Atyani said an Abu Sayyaf translator, who spoke English to him eventually fled after the group discovered that he was helping him plot his escape. “They were prepared to kill him, he knew this and managed to escape and moved to another island, it is a gang, they kill the person who does not accept to be governed by them or doesn’t want to abide by the agreement or their way of life,” he said.

    He said he also saw children carrying automatic rifles during his captivity.

    Atyani said he was not harmed by the Abu Sayyaf despite his attempt to escape twice, but the psychological torture of being a prisoner, he claimed, had affected him.

    At the end of the program, when Atyani was asked if he would still go back to the Southern Philippines after his harrowing ordeal, he said: “I do not think that I was performing a press assignment, I was looking for the truth. I would never regret the fact that I was looking for the truth, so on the contrary, I will continue this mission that we believe is a noble mission and I am personally convinced about it. There is no doubt that this was a hard experience and tragedy, but it made me stronger and increased my faith in the necessity to convey the truth and the honest word to the viewers.”

    The Philippine military previously said it would arrest Atyani for espionage after security officials started investigating the true intention of his clandestine interview with terror leaders in Sulu, but it shelved the plan for a still unknown reason.

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