Abducted Jordanian journalist allowed to interview captors

Kidnappers not given in to request to lower ransom demand

Gulf News

Manila: A Jordanian broadcast journalist who works for a UAE firm was allowed to interview the leaders of his abductors including their other six foreign kidnap victims while negotiations for his release are going on, a local paper said.

Baker Atyani, head of the Southeast Asian bureau of Al Arabiya (a TV firm) is “free to move around” to interview leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group and their six foreign kidnap-victims who were held in Patikul and in Indanan towns in Sulu, a ground security official who requested for anonymity told the Philippine Star.

It was one of the conditions asked by the Middle East based negotiators who have been talking with the Abu Sayyaf leaders for Atyani’s release, the source said, adding, “Negotiations have reached a critical level and we will not be surprised that he [Atyani] suddenly showed up in Malaysia.”

The kidnappers have not given in to request of the negotiators to lower the P50 million (Dh 4.16 million) ransom demand, said the source.

At the same time, two Filipino crewmen, audio-man Rolando Letrero, 22, and photographer Ramelito Vela, 39, who were kidnapped with Atyani were not allowed to roam around with the foreign journalist, said the source.

Although under heavy guard, the Filipino crewmen would also be released with Atyani, said the source, who did not specify the date of the journalist’s release.

Tahil Sali, a close relative of Abu Sayyaf Group commander Radullan Sahiron who is based in Patikul, was identified as the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group that kidnapped Atyani and his companions.

The rest of the kidnappers are “not full time Abu Sayyaf members,” but were recruited to assist the Abu Sayyaf leader for Atyani’s kidnapping, said the source who did not give more details.

Atyani and his companions were not seen again after they left their hotel in Sulu on April 12.

Before his abduction, the Jordanian journalist had interviewed several local government leaders and analysts of the Muslim situation in the southern Philippines.

His plan was to make an in-depth documentary on the Abu Sayyaf Group, his Manila-based assistants said.

It is not known if Atyani managed to interview a member of Jemaah Islamiyah in the Abu Sayyaf territory.

The Abu Sayyaf group has links with Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian conduit of the Al Qaida-terror group which was once led by the late Osama bin Laden.

The Abu Sayyaf Group gave members of Jemaah Islamiyah safe haven after they were identified in the twin-bombing that killed 200 in Bali, Indonesia in 2002.

The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for high profile kidnap-for-ransom, beheadings, bombings and other terror activities in the southern Philippines. It has been blamed for other terror attacks in Metro Manila.