Al Azhar condemns Abu Sayyaf over un-Islamic abductions and terror acts
For Ahmed al Tayeb, head of the most important Sunni university, putting people's lives at risk for "a small sum of money" is against Islam. He appeals for the release of Bakr Atyani, a Jordanian reporter with the al Arabiya TV network who was seized by the terrorist group in June 2012 in Jolo (Mindanao). At least people die in a gunfight between Malaysian security forces and Islamist fighters in Sabah, eastern Malaysia.

Jolo (AsiaNews) - Al Azhar University has condemned abductions and terrorist acts by Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. It has also called for the release of Bakr Atyani, a Jordanian reporter with the al-Arabiya TV Network, who has been held in Jolo (Sulu), Mindanao, since June 2012.

In a statement to the media, the grand imam of al Azhar Ahmed al Tayeb said that killing and violence in the name of religion are an insult to Islam.

"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 added.

The religious leader called on the kidnappers to let the journalist go back to his family without conditions.

Bakr Atyani is the Philippines correspondent for the al-Arabiya TV Network. He and two Filipino crewmembers were abducted in June 2012 whilst reporting in Jolo, in predominantly Muslim Mindanao Island.

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

The Jordanian was taken to a more secure location deep into the Sulu forest in order to increase the ransom for the well-known journalist.

Located in the waters that separate Malaysia from the Philippines, the Sulu Archipelago has hundreds of islands.

For several years, it has been the stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino terrorist group close to al Qaeda responsible for several attacks, including that against the Chapel of the Sacred Heart on 25 December 2010 during Christmas celebrations.

But Abu Sayyaf is not alone. The atmosphere of impunity and the huge trade in weapons and drugs to and from Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia have spawned other extremist Muslim groups.

Since 9 February, some 200 members of the so-called 'Sulu Royal Army', a Philippines-based Islamist armed group, have fought with Malaysian forcers after they occupied a small village in Sabah province, on Malaysia's eastern-most coast. In a recent incident, some ten people were killed when Malaysian police tried to storm the village.

Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, the leader of the group, informed al Jazeera about it. His group has used the Qatar-based network to inform the world about their existence and claims, which include a claim to Sabah province itself on the basis of title deeds that date back to the late 19th century.

So far, the terrorists have not heeded appeals by Filipino President Benigno Aquino to give up their armed struggle to avoid a diplomatic incident with Malaysia and a possible armed intervention.