MANILA, Philippines – One week after a Jordanian journalist and his two Filipino crew members disappeared on the island of Sulu, the Government denied that the three are involved in a “conspiracy” with the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
“First of all, we do not want to call it a kidnapping, since it is clear that they there went there voluntarily,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo told the media in Zamboanga City on Tuesday, June 19.
Chief Superintendent Mario Avenido, Director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Police, also reiterated in a separate press conference that since there is no ransom involved, it is still a missing person case.
So far, Avenido’s men are only tracking the person who arranged the interview between the news crew and the ASG, who could face “legal sanctions.”
Kidnapping scenario ‘same pattern’
In 2008, Sulu-based Octavio Dinampo, who teaches at Mindanao State University, played the same role for broadcast journalists who were later kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf.
In a phone interview with Rappler, he said this scenario is familiar.
“It is the same pattern they used against us in 2008, which is the thirst for scope [scoop]? and interview exclusivity that becomes the very trap of the kidnapping,” he said.
Dinampo, a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front, set up an interview between the Abu Sayyaf’s most senior leader, Radullan Sahiron, and broadcast journalist Ces Drilon.
Dinampo accompanied Drilon and her TV crew, and they were kidnapped for ransom.
For a while, authorities were unsure whether Dinampo was a victim, but no evidence ever surfaced that he was working with the Abu Sayyaf.
Dinampo said that according to his sources, the driver of the white multicab which picked up veteran Jordanian reporter Baker Abdullah Atyani and his two Filipino crewmen is a relative of Sahiron.
Concern in international media
Following the dissapearance of Atyani and his two Filipino companions, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents more than 600,000 journalists in 31 countries, expressed its “concern” for the three in a statement issued on Monday, June 18.
“The IFJ joins its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, in expressing concern for the safety of (the three), who have been missing since June 12 in the town of Jolo, in the Philippines’ Sulu Province.”
Malacañang on Monday confirmed reports that Aktani and his Filipino crew members were in the hands of the ASG.
However, DILG secretary Robrero said the team went there voluntarily to interview the Abu Sayyaf leadership and refused the protection offered by municipal and provincial authorities as well as the Police in Sulu.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda insisted that the Government will uphold its no-ransom policy if Atyani was kidnapped.
Atyani, 43, is the bureau chief for Southeast Asia of the Al Arabiya news channel.
He met with Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri near Kandahar, Afghanistan in June 2001, months before the 9/11 terror attacks.
The journalist is also the former Middle East Broadcasting Company bureau chief in Pakistan.
Sulu is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, a small Islamic militant movement that has been blamed for most of the country’s worst terrorist attacks as well as kidnappings of foreigners. – Rappler.com, with additional reporting from Amir S. Mawalil