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Philippines Says Reporter From Jordan Held Hostage

Baker Atyani
MANILA : A veteran Jordanian journalist who has been missing in the southern Philippines for nearly two weeks is now considered a captive, a senior Philippine government official said Sunday.“All indications that we have now are that he is being held hostage,” a presidential spokesman, Ricky Carandang, said Sunday by telephone. “There was some confusion in the beginning, but it appears clear now that he is being held.”
Mr. Carandang’s statement comes after several conflicting reports on the status of the journalist, Baker Atyani, and represents a shift in the government’s stance on the case. Mr. Atyani is based in Jakarta, Indonesia, as the Southeast Asia bureau chief for Al Arabiya television. He was last seen on June 12 getting into a van with two unidentified men during a reporting trip to the restive southern province of Sulu. His camera operator and sound technician are also missing.

As recently as Thursday, Philippines officials said that they considered the three to be missing, while the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said it had information that Mr. Atyani had been abducted. Military officials in the Philippines at first reported that Mr. Atyani and his crew were moving freely in rebel areas conducting interviews. On Sunday, the government did not provide details on how and when his situation changed or when he was taken captive.

It appears that Mr. Atyani was trying to interview hostages and members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, Mr. Carandang said. Mr. Atyani was initially assigned minders by the local government to help keep him safe, but he separated from them.Many analysts say that the Abu Sayyaf group, which has carried out bombings, high-profile kidnappings and beheadings in the southern Philippines for more than a decade, is probably holding Mr. Atyani captive. Mr. Carandang was not able to confirm this information.

“It is difficult to say if it is the Abu Sayyaf or not,” he said. “These individuals change identities like they change clothes.”Mr. Atyani’s crew members, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, a camera operator and sound technician hired in Manila, have made contact with their employers and families and are asking for “some kind of assistance” — which might be a type of ransom request, Mr. Carandang said. It is unclear whether the government has begun a mission to find Mr. Atyani. “There are efforts being made to retrieve them,” Mr. Carandang said. “I’m not in a position to say more than that.”

Abu Sayyaf has repeatedly kidnapped reporters whom they invited into their area for interviews.Arlyn dela Cruz, a journalist based in Manila who has interviewed hostages being held by the group, said that when the group does not have clear leadership, the situation is much more dangerous for journalists.“In my early years of covering the Abu Sayyaf, when there were many commanders and the leadership was not clear, some of the commanders wanted to take us as hostages,” she said.

Ms. dela Cruz speculated that if Mr. Atyani was being held by Abu Sayyaf, it could be by a commander who is seeking to take a leadership role by gaining the prestige and money associated with a high-profile kidnapping.The government discourages reporters from going into areas where Abu Sayyaf and other militant groups operate, according to Mr. Carandang, “We do everything we can to discourage them from doing these kinds of interviews because of exactly this situation,” he said. “This is especially true of foreign reporters, who are considered by these groups to be high value.”


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