Journalist remains missing

ZAMBOANGA -- Police authorities are still in search for a Jordanian television reporter and his two Filipino crewmen, four days after their reported disappearance in Sulu province.

Sulu Police Director Antonio Freyra said a crisis committee has already been formed to address the disappearance of Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani.

The authorities have maintained the "missing" status of Atyani and his two Filipino crewmen -- Rolando Letrero, 22, an audio man, and Ramelito Vela, 39, a photographer -- after none of the crime groups in the province have claimed responsibility of Atyani's disappearance.

The three were reported missing since last Tuesday after they failed to return to their rented rooms at the Sulu State College Hostel located on Martirez Street, Jolo in Sulu.

The authorities were trying to verify 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 told The Associated Press (AP). He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Atyani and his crew arrived Monday in Jolo, a hotbed of militants notorious for bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila.

Freyra said the three men left their Jolo hostel early 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 told the AP by phone. "He's been declared missing for now."

Atyani is a veteran Middle Eastern TV reporter who had interviewed Osama bin Laden months before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He is Al-Arabiya's TV bureau chief in Southeast Asia.

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.

Amin expressed fear for the journalists' safety even though Atyani was an experienced reporter.

"Well, he doesn't know what he got into this time. These gunmen are bandits and drug addicts. They can enter but it's uncertain if they can exit," Amin said.

Abu Sayyaf militants have launched more attacks in the last four years despite U.S.-backed offensives on Jolo and neighboring islands. (With AP/Sunnex)
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