ZAMBOANGA CITY: The wife of a Jordanian journalist seized by Abu Sayyaf terrorists have appealed for the safe release of the captive being held in the southern Philippines.
Baker Atyani, who sneaked into the Abu Sayyaf territory in June 2012 to secretly interview terrorist leaders for a documentary film, was himself taken captive while his two Filipino assistants—Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela—had been freed unharmed this year in exchange for ransom.
The Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported that Atyani’s wife, Um Khalid, has appealed to rights organizations and officials to help secure the release of her husband.
Atyani’s own family also appealed to Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan to help secure the freedom of the journalist, who is Al-Arabiya TV bureau chief for Southeast Asia.
Atyani’s wife and her four children live in Jordan while the journalist’s family is from Anza village in the northern West Bank, according to the news agency.
“The family in Anza is really worried and has sent pleas to President Abbas and the King Abdullah Jordan, and efforts have been made to release him,” Atyani’s brother Mahmud Atyani told Ma’an.
Last year, the Philippine military said it would arrest Atyani for espionage and interrogate him about his mission in Sulu province where he was last seen.
“We will arrest him as soon as he gets out of the Abu Sayyaf—for espionage—and interrogate him about his mission,” said Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, then deputy commander of naval forces in southern Philippines, in an interview with the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
Cenabre said they were investigating the true intention of Atyani’s clandestine interview with terrorist leaders. “Atyani is freely moving in the hinterlands with Abu Sayyaf terrorists and we are monitoring the situation,” he said.
But Cenabre was forced to deny his statement after the military reprimanded him for talking to the press about the foreigner. He was removed from his post in Zamboanga City and sent to the naval headquarters in Manila. He is now the commander of a joint military task force in Sulu province.
There were also reports in Sulu that Atyani was taken hostage and that militants are demanding huge ransom. Other reports claimed Atyani was a conduit for the Abu Sayyaf and that the ransom demand was only a cover to hide the flow of funding to the terror group, including Jemaah Islamiya, blamed for the string of attacks and bombings in the Philippines.
Military and police said Atyani arrived in Sulu and went to the Abu Sayyaf to secretly interview terror leaders and other rebel commanders, including Jemaah Islamiya militants hiding on the island.
The military said the Jordanian journalist had made prior arrangement with the Abu Sayyaf to film a documentary about the terrorist group. Authorities said Atyani also deceived local government officials after he claimed to be filming government projects in Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.
Atyani, who had previously interviewed al-Qaeda terror leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan months before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, contacted his colleagues to say that they are being held against their will.
But Jainab Abdulmajid, a spokesman for the Sulu provincial government, said Atyani and his crew went to the Abu Sayyaf to interview its leaders. She said they received reports that Atyani was moving from one camp to another along with the Abu Sayyaf militants.
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.
The military’s Western Mindanao Command said Atyani had previously filmed in secret the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu province. “Atyani had been in and out of Sulu in the past and secretly interviewing terrorist leaders,” said then Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, a regional army spokesman.