Top Sunni Muslim leader urges PH captors to free journalist

Posted at 02/28/13 10:55 AM

CAIRO - The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the top religious authority for Sunni Muslims, on Wednesday urged Islamist militants in the Philippines to free a reporter with Al-Arabiya news channel seized in June.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb called upon kidnappers to "revert to right and religious principles... which stress that kidnapping and terrorism are prohibited," in a statement released by his office in Egypt's capital.

He urged the kidnappers of Bakr Atyani, a Jordanian journalist working for Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, to set him free and let him "return safely" to his family.

"This shameful act of kidnapping, terrorism and putting the lives of people at risk for a small sum of money contradicts the principles of Islam," Tayeb said.

"It also violates the freedoms guaranteed in all conventions and international norms," he said.

Atyani and two Filipino crew members went missing last June on the remote Philippine island of Jolo, which is notorious for Islamist militants and kidnappings, and a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf small Islamist movement that has been blamed for most of the country's attacks and kidnappings.

Earlier this month, the militants released the two crew members, who said they were separated from Atyani on the fifth day of their captivity.

Abu Sayyaf group was founded with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network to fight for an independent Islamic state, though it later turned into a criminal gang.

US special forces have been rotating in the southern Philippines for more than a decade to train local troops in crushing Abu Sayyaf which is on Washington's list of wanted foreign terrorist organisations.

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