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Jordanian journalist Atyani escaped from Abu Sayyaf —report

Freed Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani claimed he has escaped from his Abu Sayyaf kidnappers and ended up along a road in Patikul town in Sulu, where he was recovered, according to a television report.

"This time they were really too busy and I noticed that before the sunset, between about 2 o' clock and 6 o' clock, they were very busy. They go to the nearest town market and a good number of them is out of the place and there is no security,"  ABS-CBN news quoted Atyani as saying.

"The security is only imposed around my hut at night. And so I've been observing this the last few days and I was able to know the directions. Some of them helped me to know the directions, some of the kidnappers," he added.

In an interview aired on "Balitanghali" on Thursday, Atyani only said he "left his kidnappers" before police authorities discovered him.

"When I reached the main road, leaving the kidnappers, they [police operatives] recovered me, they took me to the hospital, they have taken care of me and they have given me enough security," Atyani said.

Escaped or freed?

But police and military officials could not ascertain whether Atyani had escaped from his captors or was freed.

Provincial police spokesman Chief Inspector Chris Gutierrez in a report on Agence France-Presse said Atyani was treated for high blood pressure on Jolo island, a day after he was "discovered" by law enforcers.

"He had lost a lot of weight, from his weight of about 85 kilos before he was taken to 55 kilos," Gutierrez said.

Also, he said police saw Atyani wandering in a remote area on Jolo, believed to be a stronghold of the  Abu Sayyaf bandits linked to international terror network Al-Qaeda.

"After we confirmed his identity we took him to a hospital. He was apprehensive at first, but we introduced ourselves as police and (Atyani) lightened up when he realized he was safe," Gutierrez said.

Meanwhile, 2nd Marine Brigade commander Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre could not confirm if Atyani has escaped.

"That is still under our investigation. We are still looking into validating the information or his statements as a result of our investigation," Cenabre told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

"What is important is he is back to normal life," he added.

In a separate interview, Cenabre said "it is better if you use the word safely recovered," when pressed to confirm if Atyani was released or had escaped.

Meanwhile, Captain Ryan Lacuesta, civil military operations officer of the 2nd Marine Brigade, said in an interview on "Balitanghali" the military and police officials, as well as the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, recovered Atyani along the road in barangay Igasan in Patikul town.

"Nadaanan siya ng patrol natin sa vicinity ng Igasan Road. He was identified and was immediately picked up and brought to the Sulu provincial hospital," Lacuesta said.

"Talagang nagkataon lamang. We are intensifying our law enforcement operation dito sa area ng Sulu right now," he added.

Atyani was released

For his part, Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Atyani was "released," citing a report given to him by Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

"This is good news for us. At least, the number of their [Abu Sayyaf] hostages decreased," said Gazmin, adding there are still 17 more hostages, including foreigners.

Gazmin's information conforms with the statement of Atyani's employer Al Arabiya News, which cited a source that said the kidnappers "handed over Atyani to the governor’s office on Wednesday evening."
Atyani and his two Filipino crew members disappeared in June 2012 when they went to Mindanao to interview the bandit group Abu Sayyaf.

Military and police sources had said the Abu Sayyaf had demanded millions of dollars in ransom, though neither Atyani's family nor his employer would confirm this.

Atyani is the Southeast Asia bureau chief of the Al-Arabiya News Network. The veteran journalist gained fame for interviewing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden months before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

He hired two Filipino crew members and went to Jolo in June last year to interview Abu Sayyaf leaders, but they were instead held hostage.

The Filipinos were freed in February this year without paying any ransom money. They said they were separated from the Jordanian five days into their captivity.

Jolo, more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Manila, is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for the country's worst terror attacks, including bombings and abductions of foreigners and missionaries.

US special forces have been taking rounds on Jolo Island and other parts of the southern Philippines for more than a decade to train local troops battling the bandit group, which is on Washington's list of "foreign terrorist organizations."

Philippine authorities say Abu Sayyaf gunmen are still holding a number of foreign hostages, including two European birdwatchers and a Japanese treasure hunter.

In March, the gunmen freed Australian Warren Rodwell after 15 months in captivity. Philippine negotiators said his family had paid a $100,000 for his freedom.

Rodwell was seized in December 2011, and his captors had initially demanded $2 million for his safe release. — with a report from Agence France-Presse, Marc Jayson Cayabyab /LBG, GMA News