VARIOUS: Freed journalist Alan Johnston thanks hundreds of BBC staff in London via live transmission
- Title: VARIOUS: Freed journalist Alan Johnston thanks hundreds of BBC staff in London via live transmission
- Date: 5th July 2007
- Summary: (W3) JERUSALEM (JULY 4, 2007) (POOL) VARIOUS OF JOHNSTON WATCHING RALLY VIA LIVE TRANSMISSION
- Reuters ID: LVAAA62C0Y4EEC6VQOT4Z769WQVB
- Duration: 00:00:14
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- Story Text: Kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston is set free after 114 days in captivity in Gaza. He says a radio kept him in touch with the international campaign for his release during his captivity.
Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist held hostage in the Gaza Strip, was freed on Wednesday (July 4) after a deal between the ruling Hamas Islamists and the al Qaeda-inspired clan group that kidnapped him in March.
"I dreamt many times literally dreamt of being free again, and always I'd wake up in that room and it's almost hard to believe that I'm not going to wake up in a minute in that room again but I do not think so," he said at the home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh after his 114-day ordeal at the hands of the shadowy Army of Islam.
Johnston said he was ill at times but only at the last did they "hit me a bit" during a midnight drive to freedom. Often in solitary confinement, he did not see the sun for three months.
Haniyeh, whose movement routed the forces of the secular, Western-backed Palestinian president last month to seize full control of the coastal enclave, said the outcome "confirms (Hamas) is serious in imposing security and stability".
Khaled Meshaal, Hamas's exiled overall leader, told Reuters it contrasted with "anarchy" prevailing when the Fatah faction of West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas was active in Gaza.
But, in a mark of the bitterness dividing Palestinians, the Palestinian Minister of Information of Abbas's new cabinet, Riyad al-Malki, was critical of the role of Hamas in the affair,
"It's very clear that you know, we do believe that Hamas stands behind his abduction and his release. Hamas used it's own proxies to abduct him and to use him as a bargaining card to gain political gains," he said.
Abbas himself welcomed the end of an abduction he said had harmed all Palestinians and said armed groups must be dissolved.
Negotiators were backed by Hamas fighters cordoning off the stronghold of the heavily armed Doghmush clan. Officials say some of its members are behind the Army of Islam, whose precise links, if any, to foreign al Qaeda groups are unclear.
Mediators said a Muslim cleric's "fatwa" clinched Johnston's release -- but also noted Hamas forces had detained leading clan figures and then let them go in return for the hostage.
They said there was no ransom or other conditions. The group had demanded Britain and other states free Islamist prisoners.
"We can't say there were conditions, but this freedom is the success of agreements through hard work," said Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha.
Johnston later thanked hundreds of his colleagues gathered outside the British broadcaster's Television Centre via a live transmission from Jerusalem.
"114 days every week you've gathered in support of Alan. But, today instead of solemnity, instead of hope, it is freedom and joy," BBC News Deputy Director General Mark Byford told Johnston from outside the offices via a live transmission.
The crowd cheered for Johnston who watched the event on television from the British High Commission in Jerusalem.
Johnston said seeing the international mobilization for his release while in captivity was an important motivational factor for him.
The crowd cheered as a banner reading ' Free Alan Johnston' was finally lowered from the exterior of the BBC Television Centre.
The radio, and a one-off viewing of a captor's television while Johnston's father was making an on-air appeal, helped keep the correspondent focussed on hope.
During a news conference later in the day, the 45-year-old Scotsman admitted having the radio was "a lucky break". He heard colleagues and friends on the BBC's World Service, the station he had worked for for almost 16 years, reporting his plight. And it kept him up to date with what his captors were doing. The messages he received from people he knew and didn't know gave him what he described as "the most extraordinary psychological boost".
He said when Hamas took power his kidnappers suddenly became worried and "the whole mood changed". He believes if it hadn't been for Hamas putting the pressure on he'd still be held captive.
Johnston's release was bloodless, though he said Hamas had seized the brothers of two of his captors as leverage.
Johnston says he doesn't expect to return to Gaza again soon. He joked he would return when it became a member of the EU.
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- Embargoed:20th July 2007 13:00