Crisis committee formed to find missing journalist

Rappler.com
A search and rescue operation will be launched at the 'appropriate time'

MANILA, Philippines – The municipal mayor of Patikul, Sulu, Kabir Hayudini, has formed a crisis management committee (CMC) to focus on the “recovery” of a Jordanian journalist and his crew reported missing for 4 days now in Jolo, Sulu.

Philippine National Police spokesperson Generoso Cerbo said in an interview on ANC the committee will allow the municipal mayor to orchestrate and manage all resources available within the municipality, including tapping security and law enforcement agencies.

Baker Atyani of the Dubai-based Al Arabiya network and his two Filipino crew failed to return to their Sulu State College hostel on Jolo island on Tuesday, June 12, provincial police chief Antonio Freyra had confirmed.

Atyani, who arrived in Jolo on June 11, interviewed Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan and had told him of his intention to interview prominent personalities from the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The interviews with “prominent personalities relating to terrorism,” was for a special show that was to be aired in Saudi Arabia. The governor, according to Cerbo, discouraged Atyani and volunteered to provide him security.

AT WORK. Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani interviews Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in this June 2001 CNN photo.

Still missing

Asked about the possibility of kidnapping, Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, Sulu provincial police director, said in an earlier interview, “I think since their purpose was really to make a documentary to be aired in the Middle East, they were concentrated on that. It’s just surprising why they seem to have a hidden agenda…because they went off to an unknown destination and purpose.”

The group was last spotted at 5:40 am on June 12, Tuesday. Freyra said hotel personnel and security guards told police that a vehicle fetched the team. Freyra said they left behind their room key and personal belongings, and only took their camera equipment with them.

The crew has yet to be located.

Authorities still have to establish whether Atyani, who has interviewed Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, has indeed been kidnapped. Freyra added that authorities could only confirm whether the incident is an abduction or kidnapping if a demand is received from a particular group; they have not heard from any group at this point.

Atyani, along with Filipino cameraman Ramel Vela, 39, and Filipino audioman Rolan Letriro, 22, may just be doing interviews, authorities said, and are just being reported as missing.

Checkpoints

Freyra said that the three including the driver of the white multi-cab could be somewhere around Patikul town. “We are conducting checkpoints in different parts of Sulu particularly in mainland areas to determine the whereabouts of these people,” he added.

Freyra said Edwin Lacierda, presidential spokesperson, had instructed him to deliver regular reports on the incident.

Manila-based journalist Munir Jannaral, who arranged the interview between Atyani and Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, told Rappler the last time he talked to Atyani was when he was still in Manila.

Jannaral said that Atyani’s crew, Vela and Letrero were hired by the Jordanian journalist from a production company and are not really journalists (not members of a legitimate news media outfit).

Freyra said that two other foreign nationals are still being held captive by unidentified groups in Sulu: Japanese Kulara Vee Tin and Indian Amer Katayama Mamaito.

Edmund Gumbahali of  Task Force Kahunangan, a network composed of more than 40 civil society groups in Sulu, said that authorities should confirm reports before releasing them since he said the “peace and tranquillity” of the province is at stake.

A search and rescue operation will be launched at the “appropriate time,” Cerbo said, following a decision by regional commanders.

Gumbahali said that the incident could be a repeat of what happened to broadcast journalist Ces Drilon where an interview with a rebel group was arranged but Drilon and her crew ended up being kidnapped. – With reports from Amir Mawallil/Rappler.com