At least 21 people have been killed in the Philippines as pro-government militants clashed with Islamist rebels in an apparent attempt to rescue several foreign hostages, among them the Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, reported the Associated Press.
Atyani, a prominent TV journalist who interviwed Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks, was kidnapped in June, said Reuters.
Local police chief Antonio Freyra said fighters with the government-allied Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Monday launched an assalt on Jolo island, where Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants are believed holding several foreigners captive, according to Reuters.
The attack sparked clashes that killed at least 21 people, officials said, reported AP.
A MNFL leader also told AP Abu Sayyaf militants refused to release the foreign captives. Two Filipino hostages were freed on Saturday, reported Reuters, both of whom AP said had worked for "veteran" reporter Atyani.
Cameraman Ramel Vela and audio technician Roland Letriro, who travelled with the Jordanian journalist and were held for eight months, told police Atyani was in the country to shoot a documentary in the south. They last saw him in Sulu, a mostly Muslim province south of Manila, said AP.
"We have no information on the fate of the Jordanian journalist," Freyra told Reuters.
Army spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos said the military did not participate in the MNFL-led offensive but did help protect locals fleeing the violence, according to Reuters.
The MNFL has cooperated with the government since reaching an agreement protecting the group's autonomy, said AP.
Several other Europeans are being held by militants, but there were conflicting reports as to their exact number and countries of origin.