Johnston’s captors release a video tape

A video tape purporting to be from the kidnappers of Alan Johnston, the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, has been sent to an Arabic television station, 60 days after his disappearance.

Although the tape contains no new images of the reporter, it does include a picture of his BBC identity card, which has been posted online, seemingly to generate support for his release.

The tape, which was sent to al-Jazeera, also contains one of the first clues about the identity of his supposed kidnappers - a group calling itself Jaish al-Islam, or Army of Islam.

Disclosures obtained by a UK national paper claim that the group demands the release of a Palestinian-Islamic cleric with links to al-Qaida, in exchange for Mr Johnston’s freedom.

The Associated Press added that the 20-minute recording consists of a slideshow – showing images of the Iraq war, Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and the cleric, Abu Qatada.

He is being held by the British government on suspicion of having close ties to terrorist groups, and is reported to be awaiting deportation to Jordan.

However disclosures obtained by The Independent claim that the video reveals Mr Johnston’s captors believe that, in line with Islamic precepts, prisoners should be treated humanely.

According to the paper, Mr Johnston was said on the tape to be receiving the same decent treatment, in contrast, the footage implies, to the Muslim prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

It was also reported that the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, was doing everything possible to secure Mr Johnston’s release, while the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said he has reliable information that the 44-year-old was alive and well.

The reassurance about Mr Johnston’s safety first surfaced on May 4, following reports of negotiations between Jaish al-Islam and officials close to Mr Haniyeh.

Yesterday, Alan Johnston was named the Broadcasting Journalist of the Year at the annual London Press Awards, an accolade his father said his son would appreciate “as a dedicated journalist.”


11th May 2007

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