BBC's Alan Johnston recalls time in captivity

Captors threatened to execute me "The Zarqawi way," Alan Johnston says in interviews Thursday.

October 25, 2007 17:11
2 minute read.
BBC's Alan Johnston recalls time in captivity

alan johnston 298 88. (photo credit: AP)


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During his 114 days as a hostage in Gaza, British Broadcasting Corp. reporter Alan Johnston played out in his mind how he might be executed, hoping it would help him keep his dignity if the moment came. Three months after his release, Johnston shared on Thursday the details of how he coped with death threats from his captors in BBC radio and television programs and on its Web site. He recalled how two gunmen from a small armed group calling themselves the Army of Islam ambushed his car in March and took him to the first of four apartments where he would be held. "I just had ... an image of myself sitting there in that dingy room, handcuffed, a hood over my head and this profound feeling that I was at the lowest, lowest ebb of my life, in real danger, frightened," he told BBC television's "Panorama," according to excerpts released before its broadcast Thursday night. The first days were the hardest. He worried about how his abduction would affect his elderly parents in Scotland. But things brightened, briefly, when a guard gave him a radio, a link to the outside world. But the radio also brought bad news, including one report that said he had been executed. He feared the decision had been made to kill him. "When I heard that, that I was said to have been executed, I just felt the air come out of my lungs," he said. At one point, a guard told Johnston his captors were deciding whether to kill him. Johnston asked how it would be done. "The Zarqawi way," the guard answered, referring to the late al-Qaida in Iraq leader, whose group was responsible for the beheading of several foreign hostages. "If that was to be the last image my family and the world was to have of me, if at all possible, I did not want it to be one of a weeping, pleading, broken man," Johnston wrote on the BBC Web site. "I chose to rehearse in my mind exactly what might happen, hoping that somehow that would make the lead-up to any execution a little less shocking, a little less terrifying, and hoping that that might make it easier to preserve some kind of dignity in my final moments," he wrote. During the negotiations for his release, the kidnappers sent an e-mail saying they were set to kill Johnston, according to "Panorama." "If we don't get a positive message soon, we will end the negotiations and will send you a video of his slaughter. Then you will be negotiating not for him but for his body. We are serious. We have enough butchers to fill many refrigerators," the kidnappers wrote, according to "Panorama." The BBC reply read: "It is not necessary to threaten to harm Alan. We know that it is in your power to do this. But this will not help anyone to get what you want." Johnston said his kidnappers finally freed him after buckling under rising pressure from Hamas for his release. He said the ordeal left him with a deeper sense of the value of freedom. "I dream sometimes that I am in captivity again, and I cannot tell you how good it is to wake and gradually realize that, actually, I am free. Safe, back at home, on the shores of Loch Goil," he wrote.

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