MANILA - Reuters
In this photo taken on Monday June 11, 2012 veteran Middle Eastern TV reporter Baker Atyani, poses by the sea wall in Jolo. AP photo
A Jordanian journalist
and two Filipinos hired to help him with reporting are being held captive on an island in the southern Philippines by a one-armed leader of the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf, the interior secretary said today.
Jesse Robredo said that Baker Atyani, an Islamabad-based journalist
for Middle East broadcast network al-Arabiya, and two colleagues, are being held by militant Radullan Saheron on Jolo island.
"They are now being held against their will," Robredo told reporters in a text message. "There was no mention of ransom, but one of the Filipino captives called his wife and asked the latter to contact his company."
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.
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.