Explosives on BBC reporter in latest video

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Fears for the safety of kidnapped BBC Gaza reporter Alan Johnston increased dramatically Monday after his captors released a video showing him with a belt of explosives strapped around his waist.

The video, issued with the hallmark of the reporter's kidnappers, Palestinian group the Army of Islam, shows a pale, nervous Johnston wearing what appears to be a belt of explosives, which he said will be detonated if attempts to forcibly release him are made.

"Captors tell me that very promising negotiations were ruined when the Hamas movement and the British government decided to press for a military solution to this kidnapping, and the situation is now very serious," he said, according to wire reports. "As you can see, I have been dressed in what is an explosive belt, which the kidnappers say will be detonated if there is an attempt to storm the area. They say they are ready to turn the hideout into what they describe as a death zone if there is an attempt to free me by force."

The grim development was met with distress from Johnston's family and increased concern from the BBC, where colleagues had been hoping for Johnston's release.

The Army of Islam has called for the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Johnston's release. It is not known whether calls for money or weapons also have been made.

"It's a very difficult situation for the BBC because they can't be seen to be negotiating with terrorists either by the back door or the front," said a security expert who asked to remain nameless.

The news of the journalist's situation has been met with dismay by BBC colleagues after hopes for Johnston's release had been raised a week ago.

"We are aware of the video and its contents," the pubcaster said. "It is very distressing for his family and colleagues to see him being threatened in this way. We ask those holding Alan to avoid him being harmed by releasing him immediately. We are keeping his family fully informed and offering them our continued support."

Graham Johnston, the reporter's father, also renewed calls for his son's release.

"My family and I are obviously most concerned and distressed at this latest development," he said. "Our thoughts, of course, are with Alan in his present predicament. We earnestly request his abductors to release Alan unharmed in any way."

The BBC marked 100 days of Johnston's captivity last week by holding vigils around the world. The reporter was kidnapped at gunpoint in Gaza on March 12 as he was driving home. Western news organizations have subsequently withdrawn their news staff from the region.
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