Manila: A Jordanian journalist working for a Dubai-based television network is “still alive” and held hostage by an Al Qaida-linked terror group in the southern Philippines. On Saturday, this group released Bakr Atyani’s Filipino technicians, but not to a former secessionist Filipino-Muslim rebel group it has been negotiating with, thereby resulting in clashes that have already claimed 30 lives, sources said.
“Based on data from the ground, we received reports that Bakr Atyani of Al Arabiya network in Dubai is still alive [after eight months of captivity since June last year],” said Senior Superintendent Renato Gumban, chief of the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) at the PNP headquarters in suburban Quezon City on Monday.
When asked for proof that Atyani was still alive, Gumban cited how the journalist had a telephone conversation with his family in Dubai last December.
Several leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which forged a pro-autonomy agreement with the Philippines government in 1996, will continue holding negotiations with Abu Sayyaf leaders who are still holding Atyani hostage, said other sources who requested anonymity.
“The Abu Sayyaf is still demanding P10 million [Dh833,333] from Atyani’s family,” Professor Octavio Dinampo of Mindanao State University told the Inquirer.
Clashes between MNLF and Abu Sayyaf members have intensified after Atyani’s companions Ramelito Vela and Rolando Letrero were released, said MNLF commander Khabi Malek from the southern Philippines.
MNLF forces attacked the territory of Hatib Hajjan Sawajaan who is believed to be holding Atyani hostage, Malek said.
But Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the Islamic Commnader Council, another MNLF breakaway group, said in a radio report that Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron was holding Atyani hostage.
Meanwhile, freed hostages Vela, a cameraman, and Letrero, an audio technician, were presented to reporters at the police headquarters in suburban Quezon City, after they arrived in Manila in the morning.
“We were surprised why we were being led away from the Abu Sayyaf lair. We don’t know if ransom was paid for our release,” Vela said, citing how he and his companion rode a horse after they were released in Buhanginan village, Patikul town on Saturday.
“We were treated like children [by the Abu Sayyaf members]. We ate the same food,” said Vela. “They [our captors] made us dress like them when they moved from place to place,” Vela said, adding that they were separated from Atyani five months after they were kidnapped on June 13 last year.
He added, “We never thought we’d make it out alive.”
Some amount was paid for their release, another source said, refusing to give more details.
The Abu Sayyaf group had initially demanded P130 million (Dh 10.83 million) for the release of Atyani and the two Filipino crew members whom he had hired locally to cover the south with him, another source said.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding one Australian, two Malaysians and one Japanese national, said Gumban.
Until their clashes on Sunday, the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf had allegedly been cooperating with each other.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for kidnap-for-ransom, beheadings, bombings and other terror activities in the south and Metro Manila.