Foreign journalist, Filipino crew missing in Jolo

CMFR/ Philippines – A three-man news team from a foreign television network has been missing since 12 June 2012 in Jolo, Sulu, an alleged stronghold of the kidnap for ransom group Abu Sayyaf. Jolo, Sulu is approximately 951 kilometers south of Manila.

Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, Southeast Asia bureau chief of the Dubai-based Al Arabiya network, came to Jolo last 11 June 2012 with photographer Ramil Vela and audioman Roland Leftreiro, both Filipinos and based in Manila to shoot a documentary for Al Arabiya. The three were staying in the Sulu State College hostel.

According to Interaksyon.comon the morning of 12 June 2012, the three checked out of the hostel and were picked up by a minivan. But they failed to return to the hostel that day and are still missing.

Interaksyon quoted Sulu provincial police chief Antonio Freyra as saying that the three failed to coordinate with the Philippine National Police. Freyra was also quoted by Interaksyon as saying that  had they done so, “we would have given them security from the time they reached Zamboanga.”

In a phone interview with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), an information officer from the Sulu Provincial Police Office who refused to be named said last 15 June 2012 that the police were still unsure if the three had indeed been kidnapped or might have gone elsewhere. But the police said that they were putting up checkpoints in the area to search for them.

Believed to be taking refuge in Jolo, the Abu Sayyaf has carried out bombings and high-profile kidnappings and beheadings in the Philippines. The group has also become known for its high-profile abduction of journalists, such as Ces Drilon (kidnapped on 8 June 2008), Maan Macapagal (kidnapped on 24 July 2000), Arlyn dela Cruz (kidnapped on 19 January 2002) and Susan Enriquez (kidnapped on 20 April 2000).

Two journalists from France—Jean-Jacques Le Garrec and Roland Madura—were also abducted on 9 July 2000 by the Abu Sayyaf. On 19 September 2000, Garrec and Madura managed to escape months after their abduction.

According to CNN, Atyani is a former Middle East Broadcasting Co. bureau chief in Pakistan who was supposed to interview then Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in June 2001 in Afghanistan,  but that the two later canceled the on-camera interview.

“Atyani spent a few hours with bin Laden and al-Zawahair and said the two dropped hints about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.”

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The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) is a SEAPA founding member based in Manila, the Philippines, working to promote ethical journalism and to protect press freedom.