BBC journalist freed in Gaza

BBC correspondent Alan Johnston is free after being handed over to Hamas officials in Gaza, nearly four months after being kidnapped by a little known militant group.

A press conference has been held by him and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Alan Johnston said that he was moved twice during his captivity. His release was announced earlier by Hamas' TV station and the TV pictures show that Johnson was released by Hamas gunmen. Mr Johnson also said that he is tired but in good health and it is a fantastic thing to be free.

“The last 16 weeks, of course, were just the very worst you can imagine of my life, like being buried alive, really, removed from the world. Occasionally terrifying. You were in the hands of people who were dangerous and unpredictable,” Alan Johnston said.

Johnston said that he was unable to see the sun during the months in captivity. He was also once chained-up for 24 hours but was not harmed physically until the very last moments, when his captors apparently showed their frustration with having to release him by beating him lightly.

One of the region's senior Muslim clerics, who helped negotiate, said that no ransom was paid to free Johnston.

“We are very happy that he now has his complete and absolute freedom. It was clear from the first day that the kidnap of the journalist Alan Johnston that would become an issue for all the Palestinian people and for all the free peoples of this world,” said Ismail Haniyeh, Former PM of Palestinian Autonomy. 

The 46-year-old has been a BBC correspondent since 1991. He has worked in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan and was the only full time Western correspondent in Gaza at the time of his capture.

Alan Johnston was kidnapped on his way home from his office in Gaza on March 12 this year. His car was found abandoned.

A militant group called the Army of Islam claimed it was holding Johnston. It demanded the release of Muslim prisoners in Britain and other states in exchange for Johnston. If demands were not met, they said they would kill the captive. Three videos were released showing Johnston or his belongings.

Hopes were raised as Hamas took control of Gaza in mid June and set a deadline for release. But on June 24 another video was released in which Johnston was shown wearing an explosive vest with the warning he would die if attempts were made to rescue him by force.

Intense international efforts were launched to secure the release of the journalist. Rallies and vigils were held worldwide, Johnston's BBC colleagues organised special celebrations to mark his 100th day in captivity and also his 45th birthday.

Now Johnston is looking forward to being reunited with his family who live in Scotland. And in telephone conversation with his father he said: “I'm a 100%”.