MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Militants in the southern Philippines have released veteran Jordanian TV journalist Baker Atyani, who had been held captive for a year and a half, officials said Wednesday.
Atyani and his two Filipino crewmen were kidnapped in June 2012 by Abu Sayyaf militants whom they had sought to interview in the jungles of Sulu province. His two companions were freed last February, but Atyani, who gained prominence for interviewing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan a few months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, remained in captivity.
Philippine military commander Col. Jose Cenabre said Wednesday that Atyani, an Al Arabiya News Channel correspondent, had been freed.
Al Arabiya said in a statement that the kidnappers handed over Atyani to the local governor’s office Wednesday evening and that Philippine authorities will secure his return to Jordan.
The militants now hold about 16 captives in their jungle strongholds in predominantly Muslim Sulu, including two European bird watchers who were kidnapped last year.
While Abu Sayyaf abductions still occur, they are far fewer today than the massive kidnappings that terrorized Sulu and outlying provinces in the early 2000s, when the group had many commanders and strong ties with terrorist organizations, including Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah.
U.S.-backed military offensives have crippled the Abu Sayyaf in recent years, but it remains a key security threat. Washington lists the group as a terrorist organization.
The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. In 2009, at least 31 media workers were among 57 people massacred allegedly by members of a powerful clan in the country’s south.