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Kidnap of Jordanian worries Palace

/ 08:26 PM June 24, 2012

Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani. AP

The Palace on Sunday said it was concerned about Baker Abdulla Atyani and his two Filipino companions who are now being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Jolo, but refrained from saying anything more about the latest development.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte repeatedly said the Palace would leave it to Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo in explaining the “change in the circumstance” of Atyani, who, along with his Filipino crew, went missing two weeks ago in Jolo and reportedly went to interview the ASG.

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“We will defer to the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) to explain what happened and the factors that contributed to the change in status [of Atyani and his group],” Valte told government radio dzRB.

Valte insisted though that Atyani, bureau chief of the Al-Arabiya News Network in Southeast Asia, was not abducted by the ASG, contrary to what the Jordanian foreign ministry had stated. The Jordanian foreign ministry said last Friday that Atyani and his team had been abducted by the ASG.

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“We don’t agree it’s an abduction because the information we got is that he went there voluntarily. Now, it seems that he’s not able to leave,” Valte said of Atyani.

Impression

Robredo told the Inquirer by phone that ASG leader Radulan Sahiron is holding Atyani and his two Filipino companions Ramelito Vela and Rolando Letrero.

Robredo said they found out that Sahiron’s men were holding the three  after one of the two Filipino captives called his wife twice on Saturday.

“We got the impression based on the calls made by one of the Filipino captives that they were taken as hostages and he wanted to speak and ask help from the company where they are connected with,” Robredo said.

Vela and Letrero work for the Manila-based SFX Production House.

But Robredo could still not say if there was a demand for ransom. “We cannot say at this time, but our impression for the said call may have something to do with asking for something from his company, but we cannot conclude at this time.”

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Earlier, Robredo would not declare the trio as kidnap victims, saying  “the Filipino employees can easily call and sometimes the call would last for 30 minutes.”

But on Saturday morning, Robredo admitted that Atyani, Vela and Letrero were indeed taken hostage by a faction of the ASG in Sulu. This, after the calls made by Vela to his wife “asking his wife to meet the principals of his company and ask help.”

Robredo said they wanted to know who arranged Atyani’s interview with the Abu Sayyaf outside of Jolo “because the earlier agreement was for the interview to be conducted in Jolo town. It turned out the interview was in Patikul.”

Atyani was supposed to meet with Yasser Igasan, the alleged new leader of the ASG in the province. Robredo said Igasan is a subleader of Sahiron.

Robredo said aside from Atyani, Vela and Letrero, Sahiron’s group is also holding Indian national Biju Kolara Veetil, who was kidnapped on June 22, 2011.

Asked whether the government will organize a search and rescue operation for Atyani and his group, Valte said she would leave it up to Robredo to make a statement. But she said the government and local government officials were “monitoring the situation.”

Open line

Robredo said the government’s line of communication is always open to ensure the safe release of the three. He, however, stressed that keeping the lines open does not mean the government is entertaining conditions that may be imposed by those holding Atyani’s group.

On June 15, former kidnap victim Prof. Octavio Dinampo said Atyani and his two crewmen were kidnapped by Sahiron’s group, but this was dismissed by Robredo as baseless.

Dinampo’s sources in Sulu were able to trace the white multicab that fetched the group from the Sulu State College Hostel on June 12, to a relative of Sahiron.

“It took 13 days for them to determine that there is a group here that pretends to be a jihadist gangster. The demand is P50 million as relayed to the family of Atyani,” Dinampo said.

“It’s clear that Atyani’s identity as a Muslim does not hold water in Radulan Sahiron’s jihad,” Dinampo said.

Dinampo was among those kidnapped along with television news anchor Ces Drilon and her two crew members in 2008. In the early days of his abduction, authorities did not consider Dinampo as among those kidnapped as he was a Muslim and the one who arranged the interview with Sahiron. Dinampo said instead of bringing them to Sahiron, his local contact identified as Juamil Biyaw brought them to another group that held them captive.

“Robredo may have thought that by blaming Atyani (for what happened to him), kidnappings in Sulu will vanish subsequently. I believe it’s time for the DILG as a whole to take responsibility for most of our miseries in Sulu,” he added.

Dinampo said Sahiron’s group was also holding Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Engr. Carlos Tee, a Jolo airport engineer.

Vinciguerra and Dutch Ewold Horn were kidnapped in Tawi-Tawi in February.

Marine Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said Veetil was not kidnapped, but was killed in a family feud (rido).

“The two European tourists from Tawi-Tawi were never spotted here,” Cenabre said. Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao, and Christine Avendaño, in Manila

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