BBC journalist speaks out on kidnapping


LONDON -- BBC reporter Alan Johnston, released in July after 114 days of being held hostage by Jihadi terrorists in Gaza, broke his silence about his kidnapping Thursday in a series of interviews on BBC radio and television.

In a special edition of BBC Radio 4 show "From Our Own Correspondent," Johnston spoke frankly about the threat of kidnapping he knew he faced while working as the BBC's Gaza correspondent, as well as his fears that he might end up a victim.

A special one-off edition of BBC1 current affairs show "Panorama" also has been dedicated to the reporter.

Johnston said the situation in Gaza prior to his kidnapping had become markedly more tense after two members of a Fox News team were kidnapped and only released after making a public denunciation of the West and converting to Islam.

"In the claustrophobic, intense, violent, sliver of land that is Gaza, there was now a shadowy organization that thought in terms of waging Jihad on the West," he said.

"I knew it was likely to strike again, targeting the few dozen members of Gaza's foreign community. And so, with the help of the BBC's security experts, I did everything I could to reduce the risk of capture."

Johnston, the last Western journalist to be stationed in Gaza, was already intending to leave because the situation had become so dangerous, but 16 days before his departure he was kidnapped at gunpoint while driving home.

"I had reported many times on the kidnapping of foreigners in Gaza. Now, as I always feared it might, my turn had come," he said. "The figure with the pistol and another gunman forced me into their car, and as we sped off I was made to lie on the back seat."

Johnston described how he had to come to terms with the kidnapping and his fears that he may never be released alive, and the psychological battle he faced to maintain his spirits.

"I began to try to come to terms with the disaster that had engulfed me. I paced backwards and forwards across the cell. Five strides, then a turn, and five strides back. Mile, after mile, after mile. Imagine pacing, or just sitting for three hours, for five hours, for 10 hours. After you had done 12 hours, you would still have four or five more before you could hope to fall asleep."

During parts of his captivity he became ill and was moved from one cell to another, but his situation eased somewhat when his captors yielded to his request for a radio, and he became aware of the BBC's campaign to secure his release, which he described as "an enormous psychological boost."

The hours before his eventual release were filled with terror as his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, became embroiled in a showdown with Hamas.

"I knew that if Hamas stormed the apartment block it would come with all guns blazing, and I might well die in the assault."

His eventual freedom and return to his native Scotland had nonetheless left a legacy of nightmares, but Johnston said he believed that the experience had not only been bad.

"With its locks and chains, its solitary confinement and moments of terror, it was a kind of dark education. I lived through things which before I would have struggled to imagine and maybe, in the end, I will be stronger for that."