By Iqbal Tamimi
Baker Atyani, a Jordanian reporter working for the television channel al-Arabiya, is being held captive by the militant leader Radullan Saheron on an island in the southern Philippines.
Atyani, an Islamabad-based Jordanian reporter working for the Middle East broadcast network al-Arabiya, and two other Filipinos hired to help him with reporting, are being held captive on Jolo island by the one-armed leader of the Islamist militant group, Abu Sayyaf".
"They are now being held against their will," the Filipino interior secretary, Jesse Robredo told reporters on Sunday in a text message. "There was no mention of ransom, but one of the Filipino captives called his wife and asked her to contact his company." Said Robredo.
Robredo said they presumed that the captive crew was asking something from his employers, "but we cannot say if its ransom. We are keeping our lines open for communication."
The two Filipinos, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, work for a Manila-based media production house and were hired by Atyani. Al-Arabiya said it has lost contact with Atyani.
Saheron is one of two remaining Philippines Islamist militant leaders on the US State Department's terrorist watch list. The other is Isnilon Hapilon. Washington has put up to US$5m bounty on their capture dead or alive.
The Philippines initially denied Atyani was a hostage, even though the Jordanian foreign ministry issued a statement last week saying he was a captive in the southern Philippines.
Reuters reported Atyani arrived on June 11 at the island stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, notorious for kidnap-for-ransom and for beheading captives. The militants are now holding two Chinese, an Australian, two Europeans and Japanese as captives on Jolo and nearby Basilan islands.
The next day, Atyani and his crew were seen boarding a mini-bus to the island's interior, seeking an interview with Yasser Igasan, an Islamist militant leader with connections to al Qaeda and Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiya.
Iqbal Tamimi, Director of Arab Women Media Watch in the UK, condemned the continuous targeting of journalists and called for an immediate release of Atyani and his colleagues.
‘I interviewed Baker Atyani back in 2006 about the dangers he was facing as a journalist reporting from dangerous zones, and the difficulties he faced as a reporter when he interviewed Al Qaeda leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Thawahiry on the 21st of June 2001. Atyani is a dedicated journalist who provided the news department with brilliant reports. He is a professional journalist of high ethical standards who did not mind going the extra mile to secure an important interview. He has always put his work ahead of his own life and safety, even though he is married and have little children to worry about’ said Tamimi, who worked directly with Atyani at mbc and al-Arabiya television channels.
Atyani started his television reporting career with the mbc television channel in Dubai covering a series of explosions in Pakistan in May 1998. Before that, he worked with the international television news agency WTN.
Atyani’s first journalistic mission after Pakistan was in the Philippines, where he produced a series of special reports on the armed movements in the south of the country. He managed to reach the stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's Abu Baker Camp, and met the leader of the front, the now-deceased Salamat Hashim, and the then commander of the military Al Haj Murad, who replaced Hashim as a commander of the front. Atyani managed to move inside the camp and to film their troops and their military exercises.
‘As a journalist and an NUJ member I appeal to all those who are concerned to secure the safe release of Atyani and other detained fellow journalists. Without the dedication of such reporters, the worldwide audience would have had no idea about terrorism in that part of the world. And on this occasion I would like to highlight the need to establish trade unions in Arab countries, especially in the GCC, and particularly in UAE where trade unions are still banned, to offer their solidarity and support for journalists and their families,’ said Tamimi.