Sat, Jun 02, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Islamist militants release first video of BBC journalist

WELCOME NEWSThe family of British reporter Alan Johnston said they were `pleased' to see him alive, but were also distressed at his plight

AFP , GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP

Palestinian extremists released yesterday a first video of BBC reporter Alan Johnston since he was kidnapped 80 days ago in Gaza, in which the journalist says he is in good health and being well treated.

"First of all, my captors have treated me very well. They've fed me well, there's been no violence towards me at all and I'm in good health," said a slightly pale Johnston, wearing a red sweatshirt in front of a black backdrop.

There was no indication as to when the relatively sophisticated Internet video was made, but Johnston at one point referred to "here in Gaza" and its release sparked a new onslaught of international calls for his freedom.

Put out by the Army of Islam, the group claiming to hold Johnston, the recording reiterated their demands that the West release Islamic militants -- in particular Palestinian-born cleric Abu Qatada detained in Britain.

The prize-winning British journalist, who marked his 45th birthday in captivity, spoke about Palestinian suffering as well as trouble in Afghanistan and Iraq following the British-US invasions, but a message to his family was cut.

"In three years here in the Palestinian territories, I witnessed the huge suffering of the Palestinian people and my message is that this suffering is continuing and it is unacceptable," Johnston said.

He was the only Western journalist based permanently in Gaza City when he was snatched at gunpoint on March 12 and is by far the longest-held Westerner in the increasingly dangerous and impoverished territory.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said London was doing everything in its power to secure Johnston's freedom.

"We are doing everything possible that we can to secure his release ... I hope we can secure his release for him and his family," he told a news conference during a visit to South Africa.

Johnston's family said they were "very pleased" to see him alive, but it was "clearly distressing" to see him in such circumstances.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, whose radical Hamas movement cut all ties with the Army of Islam after it claimed Johnston's kidnapping last month, also joined the growing calls for his freedom.

"The journalist Alan Johnston should be protected and not harmed. I am asking the kidnappers to release him immediately because holding him does not help Islam or the Palestinian cause," Haniyeh told reporters.

Johnston spoke about violence in Iraq following the US-British invasion in 2003, and Afghanistan, as well as Palestinian suffering.

"People are killed on a daily basis. Economic suffering is terrible, especially here in Gaza where there ... [is] absolute despair after 40 years of Israeli occupation, which is being supported by the West," he said.

"We British are completely to blame, along with the Americans, for the situation in Iraq, and the British are the main force in Afghanistan, causing all the trouble to ordinary simple Afghans, who simply want to live," Johnston said.

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