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MANILA, Philippines – A Jordanian TV reporter who was held for 18 months by Islamic militants in the Philippines said on Friday, December 6, his ordeal would be added to a book he is writing on global ‘hotspots’.
Al-Arabiya reporter Bakr Atyani, who walked free from the hands of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group on Wednesday, December 4, also said he hoped to return to the Philippines despite his harrowing experience.
In an interview with GMA television, shortly after being flown to Manila, Atyani said his main priorities now would be “to see my loved ones, to go back to this life, and one of the main projects I want to focus on is the book I am writing… on my coverage of the hotspots.”
“I will add this experience, and I hope this will be a good (addition) to this book,” he said.
The gaunt-looking Atyani, who lost a third of his body weight while being held in the jungles of the strife-torn island of Jolo, said he “definitely” planned to return to the Philippines, saying “it’s a beautiful place (with) beautiful people.”
The Jordanian will undergo a debriefing and more medical tests but could fly home as early as Saturday, December 7, said Senior Superintendent Renato Gumban, head of a special police anti-kidnapping unit.
Gumban said Atyani was “normal,” and could recall his experiences clearly despite his ordeal.
“He was not physically abused. It’s just that his food was also rice and fish so he lost a lot of weight,” the police official added.
Atyani earlier said he escaped from his captors when his guards grew lax and left him. But the circumstances of his freedom remain hazy.
Previous Abu Sayyaf kidnapping cases have involved large ransom payoffs.
Military and police sources had previously said the Abu Sayyaf had demanded millions in dollars in ransom, though neither Atyani’s family nor employer would confirm this.
Atyani is the Southeast Asia bureau chief of the Al-Arabiya News Network.
The veteran journalist gained fame for interviewing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden months before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
He hired two Filipino crew members and went to Jolo in June 2012 to interview Abu Sayyaf leaders, but they were instead taken hostage.
The Filipinos were freed in February 2013, and said no money had changed hands.
They said they were separated from the Jordanian 5 days into their captivity.
Jolo, more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Manila, is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for the country’s worst terror attacks, including bombings and abductions of foreigners and missionaries.
(Watch Atyani’s statement from a press conference following his escape below.)