Palestinian militants released on Friday the first video of BBC reporter Alan
Johnston since he was kidnapped 80 days ago, in which the journalist said he was
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 pale Johnston, wearing a red sweatshirt
and seated 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 flurry of international calls for his freedom.
Posted in the name of the Army of Islam,
the shadowy group claiming to hold Johnston, the recording reiterated demands
for the release of Islamic militants -- in particular Palestinian-born cleric
Abu Qatada who is detained in Britain.
A picture grab from a video released
by the Palestinian Army of Islam group downloaded from the website
us.archive.org shows kidnapped British journalist Alan Jonston.
Palestinian militants released the first video of Johnston since he was
kidnapped 80 days ago, in which the journalist said he was in good health
and being well treated.[AFP]
The prize-winning British journalist, who marked his 45th birthday in
captivity, spoke of Palestinian suffering as well as the situations in
Afghanistan and Iraq, 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," said Johnston.
He was the only Western journalist based permanently in Gaza City when he was
abducted at gunpoint on March 12, and is by far the longest-held Westerner in
the increasingly dangerous and impoverished territory.
APA copy of his British passport was also shown in the tape.
Speaking from South Africa, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain 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 said.
The British government condemned the publication of the "distressing" video
and renewed a call for his release. Johnston's family welcomed the first
pictures of the captive journalist, but admitted they were difficult to watch.
"We are very pleased to see Alan and to hear him say that he is not being
ill-treated, although it is clearly distressing for us to see him in these
circumstances," said his parents Graham and Margaret, and sister Katriona.
"I hope this maybe is the endgame. We hope and pray it is," his father told
Sky News, describing their ordeal as a "living nightmare."
Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya, whose radical Hamas movement said
it cut all ties with the Army of Islam after it claimed Johnston's kidnapping,
also joined the growing calls for his immediate release.
The journalist, whose plight has sparked solidarity rallies and messages of
support from all over the world, spoke not only about the territories, but also
about Iraq and Afghanistan, countries where Britain maintains troops.
"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," said Johnston.
"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.
"In history, the British worked to bring about the State of Israel, which is
the cause of all the suffering of the Palestinian people.
"We call on Britain to free our prisoners, especially the honourable
Palestinian Sheikh Abu Qatada. We do not forget either our detainees in other
infidel countries, for whose release we call," said another voice in Arabic.
Abu Qatada, once described by a Spanish judge as Al-Qaeda's "spiritual head"
in Europe, was arrested in Britain in August 2005 as part of a crackdown on
Islamist extremism after 56 people were killed in London suicide bombings.
An online petition calling for Johnston's release has been signed by more
than 130,000 people.