A veteran Middle Eastern TV reporter who had interviewed Osama bin Laden months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has disappeared with four other people on a restive southern Philippine island where Muslim militants are active, officials said yesterday.
Baker Atyani, al-Arabiya’s TV bureau chief for Southeast Asia, has not contacted authorities since Tuesday, when he was last seen on Jolo Island while on a reporting trip, Sulu provincial police chief Antonio Freyra said.
Also missing are two Manila-based TV crewmen, a local female guide and the driver of the journalists’ van, Freyra said.
Authorities were trying to verify unconfirmed reports that Atyani may have traveled to Jolo’s mountainous jungles to seek an interview with Abu Sayyaf militants and some of their foreign hostages as part of a TV documentary on the southern Philippines, a military intelligence official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
Atyani and his crew arrived on Monday in Jolo, a hotbed of militants notorious for bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings about 950km south of Manila.
Freyra said the three men left their Jolo hostel early on Tuesday and were picked up by a minivan. They failed to show up for Philippine Independence Day rites later that day despite telling officials they would cover the event.
“We don’t know if he has been kidnapped. We don’t know their objective here,” Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin said. “He’s been declared missing for now.”
A Filipino TV reporter, Ces Drilon, was planning to interview leaders of the Abu Sayyaf group on Jolo in 2008 when the group held her ransom for 10 days.
The militants on Jolo are holding two Europeans and a Japanese. There are conflicting reports whether an Indian hostage has died in captivity.
Atyani, a 43-year-old Jordanian based in Jakarta, Indonesia, was working for the Arabic satellite channel Middle East Broadcasting Corp in June 2001 when he met bin Laden and his aides in Afghanistan and said they told him that the coming weeks would hold “important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world.”
He later moved to Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV as its Asia bureau chief.