Kidnapped Al-Arabiya reporter walks free in Philippines

AFP , Wednesday 4 Dec 2013

A reporter with the Pan-Arab Al-Arabiya news channel has walked free from the southern Philippines jungle 18 months after he was abducted by Islamist militants, Filipino police said late Wednesday.

Bakr Atyani, a Jordanian, was found by a police patrol on the remote southern Philippine island of Jolo, more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) south of Manila, police in nearby Patikul town said.

"We found him walking along the road... he's lost some weight," Chief Inspector Chris Gutierrez told AFP in a telephone interview from the southern port of Zamboanga.

He said the former hostage was taken to a government hospital in the provincial capital, also called Jolo, for a precautionary medical check-up.

Gutierrez said the police patrol did not see any of Atyani's kidnappers, and there was no firefight.

Atyani and two Filipino crew members went missing in June last year in Jolo, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, a small Islamist movement that has been blamed for a string of terrorist attacks and kidnappings of foreigners in the Philippines.

In February the militants released the two crew members, who said they were separated from the Jordanian on the fifth day of their captivity.

The Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya, said in a statement Wednesday that he was handed over to the Filipino authorities by the kidnappers.

"The Philippine authorities are now responsible for ensuring his safe return to his family in Jordan," the broadcaster said.

Jordanian foreign ministry spokeswoman Sabah al-Rafie said Atyani was taken to a hospital in Jolo after being freed on Wednesday afternoon, according to a statement to Petra state news agency.

She thanked the Philippines government for "efforts" that resulted in his release.

The Abu Sayyaf group was founded with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network to fight for an independent Islamic state, though it later turned into a criminal gang.

US Special Forces have been rotating through Jolo and other parts of the southern Philippines for more than a decade to train local troops battling the group, which is on Washington's list of "foreign terrorist organisations".

The Philippine authorities say Abu Sayyaf gunmen are believed still to hold a number of foreign as well as Filipino hostages, including two European birdwatchers and a Japanese treasure hunter.

Dutchman Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland were abducted in the Tawi-Tawi island group near Jolo in February last year, while Amer Mamaito Katayama of Japan was abducted on the island of Pangutaran near Jolo in July 2010.

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