IDF concerned over fate of BBC reporter abducted in Gaza

Gov't: Kidnappers of BBC's Alan Johnston "well-known" and want "cheap reward."

hamas spokesman 88.298 (photo credit: CNN [file])
hamas spokesman 88.298
(photo credit: CNN [file])
The IDF expressed concern Tuesday over the fate of a missing BBC reporter who was abducted Monday at gunpoint by masked gunmen in the Gaza Strip, with some officers predicting that it could take weeks before the British national was released. BBC television correspondent Alan Johnston was nabbed Monday from his car by four masked gunmen in Gaza City. The abduction was the latest in a string of kidnappings of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip. "It looks like this could be Fox News all over again," one senior officer in the Southern Command said in reference to the abduction of two Fox News employees last summer who were held for two weeks. "We don't know where he is, who is holding him and what their demands are." Palestinian Authority security sources told The Jerusalem Post they were looking into reports that the BBC journalist's kidnappers were aided by local Palestinian reporters. According to the sources, Palestinian journalists working with the international media in the Gaza Strip were linked to previous abductions of foreign journalists. "We have evidence that some local reporters helped the kidnappers of the foreign reporters," the sources said. "These journalists don't want the foreigners to come to the Gaza Strip because they are taking their jobs." The sources pointed out that an investigation has revealed that Palestinian journalists were involved in the recent kidnapping of a Peruvian photographer working for AFP in the Gaza Strip, who was held for 10 days before he was released unharmed. "A group of Palestinian journalists is causing heavy damage to the reputation of all their colleagues," a senior PA security official said Tuesday. "Fortunately, this is a tiny group that does not represent all the Palestinian journalists. They are working with local gangsters belonging to large clans." The official added that the two Fox newsmen who were kidnapped in the Gaza Strip several months ago had also been "betrayed" by Palestinian journalists. On Tuesday, scores of Palestinian journalists staged a demonstration in Gaza City to protest against the abduction of the BBC correspondent. The journalists called on the PA security forces to step up their efforts to secure his release. A top Hamas official in Gaza City told the Post that the reports about the involvement of some Palestinian journalists in the spree of kidnappings were "not unfounded." He claimed that the abductions were designed to scare foreign journalists so they would stop coming to the Gaza Strip, forcing their employers to replace them with locals. Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said the kidnapping hurt the Palestinian cause. "The kidnappers have no nationalism, they want a cheap reward," he said. "They are well-known, and we hope he will be found today." Hamad spoke at a protest in front of the BBC office, where 30 Palestinian reporters called for the journalist's quick release. The protesters held up signs, and some taped their mouths shut as they criticized the government for not immediately condemning the kidnapping. Johnston, originally from Scotland, had been reporting from Gaza for the past three years. In a statement Tuesday, the BBC said it still had no confirmation of his whereabouts. "We are working closely with the Palestinian authorities and others to establish the facts surrounding the situation," the statement read. "We are keeping Alan's family fully informed of developments." Simon Wilson, the BBC Middle East bureau editor, traveled from Jerusalem to Gaza where he met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and other government members to discuss the kidnapping. "We hope to resolve this very quickly for the sake of BBC and the government," he told the government officials. Following the meeting, Haniyeh expressed his "serious condemnation" of the kidnapping, saying he ordered security forces to search for the kidnappers. In the past 18 months, more than a dozen foreign journalists and aid workers have been abducted in Gaza, an area plagued by crime, political violence and lawlessness. Most of the kidnappings have been carried out by gunmen seeking favors from the government or trying to settle scores with rivals. AP contributed to this report.