ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – A reporter with the Pan-Arab Al-Arabiya news channel has walked free from the jungle 18 months after he was abducted by Islamist militants, Filipino police said late Wednesday, December 4.
Baker Atyani, a Jordanian, was found by a police patrol on the remote southern Philippine island of Jolo, more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Manila, police in nearby Patikul town said.
“We found him walking along the road… he’s lost some weight,” Chief Inspector Chris Gutierrez told AFP in a telephone interview from the southern port of Zamboanga.
He said the former hostage was taken to a government hospital in the provincial capital, also called Jolo, for a precautionary medical check-up.
Gutierrez said the police patrol did not see any of Atyani’s kidnappers, and there was no firefight.
Crew freed earlier
Atyani and two Filipino crew members went missing in June last year in Jolo, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf group, a small Islamist movement that has been blamed for a string of terrorist attacks and kidnappings of foreigners.
In February the militants released the two crew members, who said they were separated from the Jordanian on the 5th day of their captivity.
The Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya, announcing the safe recovery of its reporter, said in a statement Wednesday that he was handed over to the Filipino authorities by the kidnappers.
“The Philippine authorities are now responsible for ensuring his safe return to his family in Jordan,” the broadcaster said, adding that Atyani was receiving medical care at a Philippine hospital.
The Abu Sayyaf Group was founded with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and what later became known as the Al Qaeda network. Its ostensible goal was to fight for an independent Islamic state, though it later turned into a criminal gang.
US Special Forces have been rotating through Jolo and other parts of the southern Philippines for more than a decade to train local troops battling the group, which is on Washington’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations.” – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com