Mumtaz Dughmush, the head of the Gaza clan that has been holding BBC correspondent Alan Johnston for the past 100 days, is refusing to release the journalist for fear that Hamas will kill him and most of his clan members. Dughmush, who is known as Abu Muhammad, is negotiating Johnston's release with Hamas leaders in return for assurances that he and his relatives will not be killed, sources close to Hamas told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.
Member of clan holding Johnston killed
Since last Saturday, the sources said, dozens of Hamas militiamen have been surrounding the area where the Dughmush clan lives in Gaza City's Sabra neighborhood. Hamas has warned that it will use force unless Johnston is freed by Monday.
"This man is a big thug," a source said. "He is claiming to head a group calling itself the Army of Islam. In fact, this is just a group of murderers and thugs who want money and jobs."
On Wednesday, a member of the clan, Munir Dughmush, was shot by unknown gunmen in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood. His killing raised fears that the clan might try to kidnap another foreigner.
The Foreign Press Association has advised its members to take precautionary measures when visiting the Gaza Strip for fear of reprisal.
A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip said Mumtaz Dughmush was very close to Fatah operative Muhammad Dahlan.
"In the past he was close to Hamas, but he later started working with Dahlan," the official said. "This man will do anything for money. He was asking for $2 million in exchange for the British journalist. But now he knows he's not going to get anything out of Hamas."
The Hamas official said Mumtaz and his brother, Mu'taz, were wanted by Hamas for their involvement in the killing of a number of Hamas men in the Gaza Strip over the past year.
"We have told them that we will negotiate with them about their safety only after they release the journalist," he said. "Hamas is determined to end this case as soon as possible because we won't allow clans to control the streets."
The official expressed fear that the Dughmush clan might kill Johnston at the request of Dahlan and other top Fatah leaders to prevent Hamas from taking credit for his release.
But Mumtaz Dughmush on Thursday strongly denied any link to Dahlan, saying he was actually very close to the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. He also claimed that he and Hamas had planned to assassinate Dahlan at least five times in the past.
"They are lying when they say that I belong to Muhammad Dahlan," Dughmush said. "The Hamas leadership knows very well that I have no connections to Dahlan. They can also check this through the documents they seized inside the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority security forces in the Gaza Strip."
He said his clan was affiliated with a number of Palestinian groups, including Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees (an alliance of various armed factions) and Fatah. "It's a mistake to blame me personally for everything the clan does," he added.
Dughmush said his Army of Islam group did not consist only of members of the Dughmush clan. "I'm only a soldier in this group," he said. "This is a group that is based on the principle of jihad [holy war]."