Al-Arabiya news team missing in the Philippines

By Madeline Earp/CPJ Senior Asia Research Associate on June 19, 2012 12:56 PM ET

Baker Abdulla Atyani (AP/Nickee Butlangan)

CPJ is monitoring with concern the news coverage of Baker Abdulla Atyani, a Pakistan-based Jordanian Al-Arabiya TV journalist, and his two Philippine crew members, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, who have been unaccounted for since June 12.

Atyani, Letrero, and Vela left their hotel in Jolo, in the southern Philippines, to interview a commander for the militant Abu Sayyaf, a banned Islamic separatist group in the region, according to local and international news reports. The three refused offers of a security detail from local authorities, the reports said.

They have not returned. Various news accounts report them as "missing," "kidnapped," and a link between Abu Sayyaf and Al-Qaeda.

It is cause for concern that the Al-Arabiya network told Philippine journalists that they had not heard from the team in a week. But in the absence of a ransom demand or an announcement claiming responsibility for their disappearance, their exact status remains speculation. And it is dangerous to assume that journalists interviewing militant groups are supporting them.

The risk of abduction by Abu Sayyaf is a very real one for journalists, according to CPJ research. In July 2000, CPJ documented at least 16 journalists kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf over a two-month period, which led to news agencies pulling their teams out of the region.


Is it really too far out to think that these journalist is supporting the Abu Sayyaf?

They fooled government officials and troops who repeatedly offered them security. They vanished after voluntarily going along with their presumed Abu Sayyaf contacts.

What is worrisome is the fate of the two Filipino crew who may not have understood the implications of working for this suspicious man, Atyani.

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