* Rare plea by Islamic scholars for journalist release
* Imam says hostage-taking contrary to Islamic beliefs
DUBAI Feb 28 Senior Muslim scholars have
appealed to Islamist rebels holding an Arab journalist hostage
in the Philippines since June to free him immediately,
statements issued this week said.
Baker Atyani, a Jordanian journalist of Palestinian origin
working for the Dubai-based al-Arabiyah television, has been
held on Jolo island by a leader in the Islamist Abu Sayyaf
group, the interior secretary, Jesse Robredo, was quoted last
year as saying.
Al-Arabiyah had said Atyani, a correspondent based in
Islamabad, was seized along with two Filipino crew members after
he arrived in the Philippines for what an al-Arabiyah spokesman
had said was a reporting assignment on local customs that had
been scheduled to air during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Egypt's al-Azhar mosque
and university, the 1,000-year-old seat of religious learning,
made a rare appeal for the release of Atyani, saying
hostage-taking was contrary to Islamic beliefs.
"His eminence appealed to the kidnappers to quickly free the
Palestinian hostage and ensure his safe return home, in concern
for the life that God almighty gives and which is protected by
countries that grant entry permits to its territory," the
statement, emailed to Reuters in Dubai On Wednesday, said.
"The Grand imam asserts that this shameful act of
kidnapping, terrorising and gambling with the lives of people in
exchange for a frivolous sum of money contradicts the teachings
of Islam as well as international covenants and norms."
In a separate statement issued on Thursday, the Association
of Palestinian Scholars Abroad also demanded Atyani's release,
saying holding harms his family and the interests of Muslims.
The kidnappers's demands were not immediately clear, but
Robredo had said there was no mention of ransom, though one of
the Filipino captives had called his wife and asked the latter
to contact his company.
The two Filipinos, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, work
for a Manila-based media production house and had been hired by
The two Filipinos were freed earlier this month, Philippine
authorities have said, but Atyani has remained in captivity.
The Philippines initially denied Atyani was a hostage, even
though the Jordanian foreign ministry issued a statement last
week saying he was a captive there.
Atyani arrived on June 11 at the island stronghold of Abu
Sayyaf, notorious for kidnappings-for-ransom and for beheading
captives. The next day, Atyani and his crew were seen boarding a
mini-bus to the island's interior.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Michael Roddy)