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 in all 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, usually 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, some of the infamous of the group’s members, Ben Quirino, also referred to as Ben Tattoo, whom Atyani remembers because the strongest ASG fighter, surrendered to the Philippine army.

Abu Sayyaf strongman Ben Tattoo arms over his weapons to a army official in Jolo island on June 17, 2022. (Armed Forces of the Philippines handout photograph)

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, supplied help 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 performed,” the veteran reporter stated.

He added: “It feels bittersweet. My thoughts is flooded with reminiscences of the lengthy days which have been spent within the jungles of Sulu being a hostage within the arms of Abu Sayyaf.”

For greater than 500 days, Atyani was stored in a hut, with Tattoo checking on him usually.

Baker Atyani was held hostage in a hut for about 500 days. (Provided photograph)

“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 stated.

“Ben Tattoo was also referred to as Ben M-14 as a result of he was all the time carrying an M-14, with a wood butt that was carved particularly for him.”

Atyani stated that the cruelty Tattoo displayed over time 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 all the time attempting to show that he was an excellent fighter, that the Sawadjaan household may rely on him, and that he may do the unattainable,” Atyani stated.

Ben Tattoo, one in all Baker Atyani’s captors, is linked with a string of killings. (Twitter)

However his brutal strategy couldn’t sway the leaders of ASG and he was by no means in a position to get shut. 

Within the video ASG took as they murdered the Canadian hostages, Tattoo was solely militant not overlaying his face.

“Tattoo all the time 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 bought 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 pacesetter,” Atyani stated. “After the loss of life of Hadjan, he ended up having no shelter or help from the jungle group that’s principally dominated by the Sawadjaan household and ASG chief Radullan Sahiron.”


Abu Sayyaf is essentially the most violent of the Islamic separatist teams working within the southern Philippines, and claims to advertise an impartial Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. After splitting from the Moro Nationwide Liberation Entrance within the early Nineties, the group launched a marketing campaign of kidnappings for ransom, bombings, assassinations and extortion, and has had ties to Jemaah Islamiyah. 

Tattoo surrendered to the army in Patikul following the give up of his half-brother, Almujer Yadah, who was answerable for ASG’s logistics and meals provides.

“We think about these two as essentially the most infamous ASG leaders to have surrendered contemplating the variety of circumstances which have been filed in opposition to them — from kidnaping for ransom, homicide, and lots of extra,” Maj. Gen. Ignatius Patrimonio, commander of the eleventh Infantry Division designated to battle militancy in Sulu, informed Arab Information on Friday.

“They bought bored with operating from pursuing army forces. Apart from, they now not have the help 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 reveals that the variety of lively militants has decreased from about 300 in 2019 to an estimated 100.

Ben Tattoo’s brother Almujer Yadah, an abu Sayyaf logistics and meals provide officer, surrenders his firearm to the Philippine Military in Jolo on June 17, 2022. (Provided)

Brig. Gen. Benjamin Batara Jr., commander of the 1103rd Infantry Brigade, which has jurisdiction over Patikul, informed Arab Information the army has been monitoring Tattoo and Yadah since final yr.

“Apparently, they had been already below stress due to steady army and police operations and a collection of surrenders of their fellow Abu Sayyaf members,” he stated.

The army handed them over to police on Friday and each are going through a collection prison prices.

Atyani believes the weakened state of Abu Sayyaf Group and different militant outfits has led to the give up of quite a lot of its fighters.

Though the help 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 prior to now three years has hastened the extremist teams’ decline. 

“There have been no experiences of any kidnapping incidents for at the very least a yr or a year-and-a-half, which implies they’re going through severe monetary points — and with out cash they will’t survive,” Atyani stated.

A complete of 67 Abu Sayyaf members in Sulu have surrendered to safety forces in Jolo to this point this yr.

9 years after his escape, Atyani’s feelings are nonetheless uncooked.

“You think about your self once more in the identical state of affairs. That’s why I really feel for many who are literally nonetheless within the arms of both Abu Sayyaf or different militant teams.” 

He remembers his worry of the unknown, saying that it was the explanation he stored 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 means, not their means.”

Baker Atyani made the choice to remain alive and never give in to “ignorants”. (Provided) 

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 reduction.

“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 type of a reduction. However, once more, it’s a story that by no means ends. These scars of my kidnapping, I believe, won’t ever go.

“So justice is being performed and has been performed.”


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