Arab Information Asia Bureau chief remembers 18-month captivity in Philippines after give up of former captor
MANILA/JEDDAH: Ten years after he was kidnapped and held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants, Arab Information Asia bureau chief Baker Atyani is once more recalling lengthy days of captivity within the jungles of the southern Philippines following information that one among his captors has surrendered to the Philippine army.
Atyani was on responsibility, reporting for Al-Arabiya Information Channel, in June 2012, when Abu Sayyaf Group, a militant outfit working in Sulu province, kidnapped him for ransom.
He was held captive for 18 months, typically in solitary confinement, earlier than managing to flee.
Within the years since, a few of those that held Atyani hostage have been killed by the army within the southern Philippines and others arrested. This week, one of the crucial infamous of the group’s members, Ben Quirino, also called Ben Tattoo, whom Atyani remembers because the strongest ASG fighter, surrendered to the Philippine army.
Shaped in 1991, ASG emerged a splinter group of the Moro Nationwide Liberation Entrance, a motion searching for autonomy for Filipino Muslims within the southern Philippines. It was initially influenced by Al-Qaeda, however because the early 2000s has been concerned primarily extortion, assassinations and kidnappings for ransom. A few of its factions, together with the Sawadjaan group of which Tattoo was a sub-leader, offered assist to Daesh operations in Southeast Asia.
Tattoo, 41, has been linked to the homicide of a number of foreigners, together with two Canadian vacationers who had been kidnapped from the island resort of Samal in 2015 and brought captive to the group’s stronghold in Jolo. He had filmed himself beheading the Canadians in 2016 after a $6.4 million ransom was not paid.
When information of Tattoo’s give up broke on Friday, Atyani recalled how the militant used to level his machete and M-14 rifle at him.
“He ought to face justice. He needs to be punished for what he has completed,” the veteran reporter mentioned.
He added: “It feels bittersweet. My thoughts is flooded with recollections of the lengthy days which were spent within the jungles of Sulu being a hostage within the palms of Abu Sayyaf.”
For greater than 500 days, Atyani was saved in a hut, with Tattoo checking on him typically.
“He was the muscle of the ASG Sawadjaan faction, thought-about to be top-of-the-line fighters, a front-line fighter and the strongest amongst them,” Atyani mentioned.
“Ben Tattoo was also called Ben M-14 as a result of he was at all times carrying an M-14, with a wood butt that was carved particularly for him.”
Atyani mentioned that the cruelty Tattoo displayed through the years was a part of the militant’s makes an attempt to show he was a reliable member of the faction that was dominated by the Sawadjaan clan, of which he was not a member.
“He was at all times attempting to show that he was a great fighter, that the Sawadjaan household may depend upon him, and that he may do the inconceivable,” Atyani mentioned.
However his brutal strategy couldn’t sway the leaders of ASG and he was by no means capable of get shut.
Within the video ASG took as they murdered the Canadian hostages, Tattoo was solely militant not protecting his face.
“Tattoo at all times tried to show that he was somebody who may very well be trusted, and he was attempting to be very near the primary circle of the group, however he by no means received this chance and that’s why he was attempting to show himself.”
Atyani believes Tattoo’s makes an attempt to realize a better rank within the group finally resulted in him being remoted after the faction’s chief, Hadjan Sawadjaan, was killed by troops within the Patikul space of Jolo, the ASG stronghold, in 2020.
“Sawadjaan’s sons didn’t need Ben to emerge as a frontrunner,” Atyani mentioned. “After the loss of life of Hadjan, he ended up having no shelter or assist from the jungle neighborhood that’s largely dominated by the Sawadjaan household and ASG chief Radullan Sahiron.”
Tattoo surrendered to the army in Patikul following the give up of his half-brother, Almujer Yadah, who was chargeable for ASG’s logistics and meals provides.
“We think about these two as probably the most infamous ASG leaders to have surrendered contemplating the variety of circumstances which were filed towards them — from kidnaping for ransom, homicide, and plenty of extra,” Maj. Gen. Ignatius Patrimonio, commander of the eleventh Infantry Division designated to battle militancy in Sulu, advised Arab Information on Friday.
“They received uninterested in working from pursuing army forces. In addition to, they not have the assist of the native populace, their group has been badly decimated, and their brothers killed.”
ASG’s power has been declining since 2018, when the Philippine army stepped up its crackdown on Daesh associates. Knowledge from the eleventh Infantry Division exhibits that the variety of lively militants has decreased from about 300 in 2019 to an estimated 100.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin Batara Jr., commander of the 1103rd Infantry Brigade, which has jurisdiction over Patikul, advised Arab Information the army has been monitoring Tattoo and Yadah since final yr.
“Apparently, they had been already underneath strain due to steady army and police operations and a collection of surrenders of their fellow Abu Sayyaf members,” he mentioned.
The army handed them over to police on Friday and each are going through a collection legal prices.
Atyani believes the weakened state of Abu Sayyaf Group and different militant outfits has led to the give up of plenty of its fighters.
Though the assist of the locals might not have wavered a lot — some nonetheless consider in what they name “the reason for the folks of Mindanao” — the killing or arrest of a string of militant leaders up to now three years has hastened the extremist teams’ decline.
“There have been no experiences of any kidnapping incidents for at the least a yr or a year-and-a-half, which implies they’re going through severe monetary points — and with out cash they’ll’t survive,” Atyani mentioned.
A complete of 67 Abu Sayyaf members in Sulu have surrendered to safety forces in Jolo thus far this yr.
9 years after his escape, Atyani’s feelings are nonetheless uncooked.
“You think about your self once more in the identical scenario. That’s why I really feel for many who are literally nonetheless within the palms of both Abu Sayyaf or different militant teams.”
He remembers his concern of the unknown, saying that it was the explanation he saved going, prompting him to make the choice to remain alive and never give in to these he calls “ignorants” — therefore his a number of makes an attempt to free himself.
“I used to be able to lose my life — however my approach, not their approach.”
Atyani’s ordeal got here to an finish on Dec. 3, 2012, when he lastly managed to interrupt free to security.
For nearly a decade, information of his captors’ deaths or seize have introduced a way of aid.
“I may see that individuals who have been unjust to me are literally now going through what they deserve. Both they’ve been killed or arrested, or at the moment are behind bars. That is actually sort of a aid. However, once more, it’s a story that by no means ends. These scars of my kidnapping, I feel, won’t ever go.
“So justice is being completed and has been completed.”