Philippine security forces have arrested a suspected militant on allegations of involvement in recent kidnappings of a Jordanian journalist and a retired Italian priest in the country's southern region, officials said Friday.
Nasirin Balajadji (alias Zaed) was captured by police and military officers Wednesday in the town of Naga in the southern province of Zamboanga Sibugay, Lt. Col. Don Templonuevo, chief of the local infantry battalion, told reporters.
“He was involved in the kidnapping of Baker Atyani, a Jordanian journalist in 2012,” Templonuevo said, referring to Balajadji.
It was not immediately clear if Balajadji had hired a lawyer who could be asked for comment.
Balajadji is the third-highest member of an Abu Sayyaf unit specializing in kidnap for ransom, Templonuevo said.
Atyani thought he would interview an Abu Sayyaf leader in Jolo for a documentary when he was taken hostage seven years ago. He escaped after 18 months, according to officials.
Col. Leonel Nicolas, commander of the army’s 102nd Brigade, said investigators also believe Balajadji was involved in the abduction of retired Italian priest Rolando Del Torchio in 2015 in the southern city of Dipolog, and the kidnapping of an 8-year-old Filipino boy in 2016 in Zamboanga Sibugay province.
Torchio was freed after six months following an apparent ransom payment, while the boy was freed after almost seven months of captivity.
Jordanian journalist says he never met suspect
Atyani, a veteran journalist for Arab News, a newspaper published in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said he never met the suspect but was informed by Philippine police that Balajadji was “one of the key guys” behind his kidnapping.
He told Arab News that he went to the Philippines in June 2012 to work on a documentary about Muslims.
Apparently, Atyani said, his local contact led him on. “The whole interview was actually setting a trap for my kidnapping,” he said.
The Abu Sayyaf is a small gang of militants blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the country, including bombings, kidnappings and random killings.
A faction of the group headed by Isnilon Hapilon pledged allegiance to the Islamic State extremist group and led a siege of southern Marawi city by militants two years ago. More than 1,200 people, most of them militants, were killed in a five-month battle that ensued.
Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro city contributed to this report.