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Journalist Atyani in Abu Sayyaf custody, but not as hostage.

Manila:

The new leader of a Muslim terror group in the southern Philippines, identified as Tuan Nadzmir Alih, has been holding in custody since June 12 a Jordanian broadcast journalist who works as Asia bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel in Dubai, including Filipino camera and audio men, sources said.

Abu Sayyaf Commander Alih is not holding Baker Abdullah Atyani of Al Arabiya hostage because the latter is a Muslim, Sulu resident Professor Octavio Dinampo told ABS CBN, a TV network.

"But this does not mean that they will not ask him for some board and lodging fee before he can leave the place," Dinampo said.

Alih is the adopted son of slain Abu Sayyaf founder Abdurajak Janjalani, Dinampo said.

Alih finished Islamic studies in Libya and Pakistan. He also studied at the University of Baguio in northern Luzon, in Cebu, central Philippines, and in Manila, Dinampo and other sources said.

The white van used by Atyani and his crew, which included Ramelito Vela and Rolando Letrero of SXF Production, when they left their hotel for the interview, was found by authorities to belong to relatives of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron in Patikul, Dinampo added.

Earlier reports claimed that Atyani interviewed Abu Sayyaf commander Yasser Igasan, but the latter became sick and was no longer the group's leader, Dinampo said.

At the same time, Joyce Cruz of SFX Production, wo works with Atyani's companions Vela and Letrero, also identified Alih as the one who was interviewed by the journalists starting June 12, an unnamed official told Asia News Network.

Meanwhile, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo who flew to Zamboanga City in the south told reporters, "One of the two Filipinos [who were with Atyani] called up his family and said they were in good condition."

"All of them were not under duress," Robredo said, adding, "They were not forcibly taken in the first place. They went there [voluntarily]."

"They can eat, they can roam around, they are not physically deprived, but they cannot leave the area yet [of the Abu Sayyaf commander] as they have to finish their story," said regional police director Mario Avenido of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

"All three are not suffering at the ASG camp," said Avenido, adding that reports about the Abu Sayaff Group's alleged ransom demand "have come from Manila [not from the south]."

Explaining why authorities are now verifying reports of Atyani's alleged link with the Al Qaida network which has ties with the Abu Sayyaf Group, Maj Gen Noel Coballes of the Western Mindanao Command said in a TV interview, "All angles are being considered, but of course we have to confirm that, in order for us to have the right response."

An unnamed official also told the Inquirer, "We are looking at Atyani as a terrorist cell contact."

Atyani's alleged kidnapping "could be a ruse to deliver funds to the Abu Sayyaf. If the ransom [demanded] is really big, then for sure, Atyani could be acting as a conduit to deliver funds to the Abu Sayyaf in the guise of a kidnapping," the same official said, adding, "We know that the Abu Sayyaf is not doing well with resources and they are really pressured."

In the same vein, Avenido, ARMMs police director told the Inquirer, "I began to harbour suspicions when Atyani rejected Sulu Mayor Sakur Tan's offer of security [from the police]."

He and other authorities should have tailed Atyani's group "so we would know what his real motive was." Avenido said.

Governor Tan had formed a crisis committee to handle Atyani's case.

Atyani and his companions are considered missing and not as hostage victims of the Abu Sayyaf, authorities said.

In June 2001, Atyani had interviewed Al Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden and his deputy chief Ayman Al Zawahiri near Kandahar, Pakistan. They hinted about a deadly terror plot.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Jun 20, 2012
Words:663
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