Fears mounted Monday within the Israeli defense establishment regarding the fate of BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who was abducted a month ago by masked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Security officials noted that a month was the longest a foreign national had been held in the Strip and did not rule out that the kidnapping had "gone wrong" and that Johnston had been injured. Four gunmen snatched Johnston, 44, from his car on March 12 as he headed to his apartment in Gaza City. The Jerusalem Post has also learned that the Defense Ministry recently allowed a delegation of Arab diplomats and security officials from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel - including Saudi Arabia - to enter Gaza on behalf of the British government.
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"It is as if he was swallowed up by the ground," a defense official told the Post, noting that no Palestinian group had taken responsibility for the kidnapping. The official also raised the possibility that Johnston had been injured during his captivity.
"Something might have gone wrong and that is why we haven't heard anything," he said.
Also on Monday, the BBC denied reports in the Arab media that Johnston may have staged his own abduction. Simon Wilson, the BBC's Middle East bureau chief, told the Post there was no truth to any suggestion that Johnston might have done so, or that the BBC was considering firing him.
"Alan is a highly respected journalist. He was due to return to London in April after a three-year position in Gaza, to resume a full-time staff job with the BBC World Service," Wilson said.
Earlier Monday, the London-based pan-Arabic paper Al-Hayat reported that Palestinian Authority security forces were investigating the possibility that Johnston staged his own abduction. According to Al-Hayat, Johnston waited 15 minutes for his "captors" to pick him up, and has been held willingly in an undisclosed location for more than a month.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.