AMMONNEWS - A Jordanian reporter and his two Filipino crewmembers who went missing in Sulu are now considered hostages of the Abu Sayyaf, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said on Saturday.
Robredo said Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani of Al Arabiya and his two Filipino cameramen are now being held against their will, radio dzBB reported Sunday.
The report quoted Robredo as saying one of the Filipino crewmembers called up his wife and asked for help. The Filipinos with Atyani had included Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela.
Robredo was quoted in the report as saying it was possible the Abu Sayyaf exploited the media attention on the case to take the three hostage, the report added.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said Sunday that they know where the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group is holding Atyani and his Filipino crew.
Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, deputy commander for Marine operations of naval forces in Western Mindanao, said his team has had sightings of the bandit group with the journalists, but he declined to divulge the exact location of the bandits for the safety of the three hostages.
“We know where they are, kaya lang mobile pa nga. Hindi pupuwede na we are hasty in everything that we do,” Cenabre said in a phone interview.
He added that the three hostages are not being held at gunpoint. He refused to give details.
Cenabre emphasized, “This is an incident. This is a situation. But Sulu is not in crisis.”
No ransom policy
Malacañang earlier said it did not yet consider the case a kidnapping. The Palace also pointed out the Philippine government maintains a no-ransom policy.
Last Friday, contrary to earlier statements made by Philippine authorities, Jordan's Foreign Ministry reportedly confirmed that Jordanian national and Al Arabiya news network Southeast Asia bureau chief Baker Atyani was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
“Efforts exerted via the Jordanian embassy in Tokyo and our consul in Manila have confirmed that Atyani was kidnapped. We are following up on the case in order to secure his safe release,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Sabah Rafei was quoted by The Jordan Times as saying on Friday.
Atyani and his two Filipino crew members — camera operator Ramelito Vela, 39, and audio operator Rolando Letrero, 22, — have been missing since June 12 when they supposedly met the Abu Sayyaf for an interview.
But local authorities have said that they are not actively searching for the three since they are safe and sound and have been in contact with them. They are supposedly in Patikul, Sulu.
Also earlier, Sulu police provincial director Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra said the three fooled local authorities into thinking they were just going to cover the celebration of Independence Day in Jolo.
He went on to say that it is very likely that they are funneling funds to the Abu Sayyaf from al Qaeda as logistical support is difficult to come by.
On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said he will recommend the banning of Atyani from the Philippines for "deceiving" local authorities and voluntarily seeking out the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
The two Filipinos work for a Manila-based media production house and were hired by Atyani. Al-Arabiya said it has lost contact with Atyani.
Robredo said they presumed that the captive crew was asking something from his employers, "but, we cannot say outrightly if its ransom. We are keeping our lines open for communication."
Saheron is one of two remaining Philippines Islamist militant leaders on the U.S. State Department's terrorist watch list. The other is Isnilon Hapilon. Washington has put up to $5 million 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.
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 a 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.