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Deep concern over BBC correspondent's fate after militant group claims it killed him

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned about the fate of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston after a hitherto unknown group calling itself "The Monotheism and Jihad Brigades" issued a statement on 15 April 2007 claiming it had executed him and condemning the British and Palestinian governments for ignoring its calls for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

"We are deeply disturbed by this news but we must nonetheless remain cautious as long as there is no evidence confirming that Johnston has been murdered," the press freedom organisation said.

In its statement, which was sent to the authorities and to news media in the Palestinian Territories, the group said it would release a video of his murder soon. "The whole world made a great deal of noise about this foreign journalist, while no one lifted a finger to help our thousands of prisoners," the statement said.

The Palestinian authorities have dismissed the statement as just an attempt to put pressure on them. Interior Minister Hani Al-Qawasmeh said at a news conference in Gaza City that he had "not received any demand from the kidnappers, or a ransom demand, and no group has claimed responsibility for the journalist's abduction." The British Foreign Ministry said it had learned of the reports and was giving them its urgent attention.

In the past two years, Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly appealed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take action to ensure the safety of journalists working in the Gaza Strip. A total of 14 journalists have been kidnapped since the start of 2005. None was held as long as Johnston, who was abducted on 12 March, and all were released unharmed.

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