A ranking official on Wednesday said he would recommend that the government declare a Jordanian television reporter as an “undesirable alien” and ban his return to the Philippines.
Secretary Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local government said that Baker Abdulla Atyani did not inform local authorities of his intention to do a documentary including an interview with leaders of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf extremists on the island province of Sulu in Mindanao.
“There was an element of deception when Atyani and his news crew of two Filipinos were planning to interview the Abu Sayyaf leaders,” Robredo said told journalists in Davao City, Mindanao.
He said he would submit his recommendation to ban Atyani, the Jakarta-based South-East Asia bureau chief of Al Arabiya, to the Department of Justice and Bureau Immigration once the reporter would show up and leave the Philippines.
In Manila, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, however, said she believes Atyani did not violate Philippine laws when he went to Sulu as a journalist to interview Abu Sayyaf leaders.
Robredo also said that Atyani and his Filipino colleagues were in “constant communication” with local officials led by Governor Abdusakur Tan of Sulu where they were reported missing since June 12.
In one of his talks with Tan over their mobile phones, Atyani had confirmed that he and his Filipino companions were in the town of Patikul, Sulu while doing a documentary on the Abu Sayyaf, according to Robredo.
He added that Atyani assured Tan he was responsible for the safety of his Filipino colleagues while in the jungles of Patikul, a known hotbed of the militants.
Earlier, Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, the Sulu police provincial commander, said they were looking into the possibility that Atyani was serving as the Al Qaeda “conduit” with the Abu Sayyaf.
Freyra revealed he received reports that Atyani was to deliver Al Qaeda funds to the Abu Sayyaf under the guise of ransom paid for his release and that of his Filipino colleagues from abduction by the extremists.
Atyani was reported missing when he and his news crew failed to return to their hostel in Sulu’s capital town of Jolo on June 12. Sulu civilian and police officials said they offered to provide security to Atyani which was a regular practice to ensure the safety of foreigners visiting the province.
However, officials said Atyani rejected the offer and even withheld from them the information that he would do a documentary on Sulu including an interview with Abu Sayyaf leaders.
Regional and Filipino security experts have confirmed the link of the Abu Sayyaf to the global Al Qaeda network through the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah militants.
Atyani is known for having interviewed Osama Bin Laden months before the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
Officially, Atyani is listed as missing. However, according to Governor Tan, even “missing” may not be a right description for Atyani because the journalist may just be doing a story somewhere on the island.
In his report to Robredo, Tan said Atyani and his crew – cameraman Ramelito Vela and audioman Rolando Letrero, both Filipinos – as well as a local guide and driver were missing along with the vehicle that was last seen picking up the team.