Gov’t working on release of 17 Sayyaf hostages — Palace
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - December 8, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The government is doing all it can to free 17 other people taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf following the release of Jordanian television journalist Baker Atyani in Sulu, a Malacañang official said yesterday.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said this was part of their mission to implement the country’s laws.

“Their continued captivity is a violation of the republic’s laws. The laws must be enforced,” Coloma said.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will lead efforts to ensure the hostages gain their freedom.

“The government through its agencies led by the AFP is determined to ensure the captives’ freedom,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf reportedly released Atyani on Wednesday, triggering reports that ransom was paid for his release.

Officials denied the reports, saying the government, as a policy, does not allow payment of ransom.

Atyani, a reporter of Al Arabiya based in Dubai, went missing in June 2012 along with his two Filipino crew.

The bandits allowed his Filipino crew their freedom but held Atyani hostage for 18 months.

When found by policemen roaming in a village in Patikul late Wednesday, Atyani reportedly lost about half of his body weight during his captivity.

Sporting long hair and a beard, Atyani was confined at the provincial hospital for treatment.

Police said Atyani underwent police debriefing to obtain information for the prosecution of his abductors.

He was later flown from Sulu to Manila and brought to the headquarters of the Philippine National Police-Anti Kidnapping Group (AKG) at Camp Crame late Friday.

“He (Atyani) lost 16 kilograms, he was 76 kilograms when he arrived in the Philippines, now he is only 60 kilograms,” AKG chief Senior Superintendent  Renato Gumban described Atyani to reporters.

Gumban presented Atyani to the media wearing a loose T-shirt, which he had on when he was abducted.

“As you can see, he (Atyani) was wearing the same shirt when he was kidnapped,” Gumban told reporters.

Gumban immediately excused Atyani for further debriefing by the AKG.

Atyani earlier told police during his debriefing in Sulu that Abu Sayyaf commander Jul Asman Sawadjaan plotted his kidnapping in June last year.

Sawadjaan is one of the few surviving Abu Sayyaf commanders based in the jungles of Patikul town. He has been linked to several abductions and attacks as the Abu Sayyaf carved a brutal image for beheadings, bombings and ransom kidnappings.

Sulu military commander Col. Jose Cenabre earlier said Atyani either was freed or escaped from his captors. Atyani said he escaped on his third attempt after sensing that the gunmen had let their guard down.

Cenabre said it was difficult to verify reports that ransom was paid.

The Al Arabiya News Channel said in a statement that the kidnappers handed him over to a local official and that Philippine authorities would secure his return to Jordan.

Two security officers who dealt with Atyani’s kidnapping said authorities were verifying information that Sawadjaan had grown weak in recent months and died due to an unspecified illness shortly before the Jordanian gained his freedom. The two officers declined to be named because of the sensitivity of their work.

When asked about Sawadjaan, Atyani said he heard that the Abu Sayyaf commander was suffering from a kidney ailment but he was not sure what had happened to him.

Gutierrez said operational information was also provided by Atyani, which they cannot reveal yet as they will be using it against the Abu Sayyaf. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe     



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