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Army of Islam releases undated video of journalist Alan Johnston, calls for prisoner exchange

(RSF/IFEX) - On 1 June 2007, for the first time since kidnapping British journalist Alan Johnston 81 days ago, the Army of Islam distributed a video of its captive in which it demanded the release of Muslim activists held by "infidel countries", including Abu Qatada, a radical Palestinian who has been held by the British authorities since 2005 for alleged links to Al-Qaeda.

"This undated video, which puts Johnston at the centre of an unacceptable act of blackmail, does not reassure us," the press freedom organisation said. "Repeated statements by the Palestinian authorities that he is about to be released have turned out to be hollow. Their lax attitude and the failure to prosecute those responsible for previous abductions of journalists in the Gaza Strip are largely responsible for the current situation."

The video, emailed on 1 June to several news media, shows a haggard-looking Johnston wearing a red sweatshirt against a black background. "My captors have treated me very well, they have fed me well, there has been no violence towards me at all and I am in good health," he says.

Clearly at the insistence of his captors, he goes on to blame Britain and the United States for "the suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, and for occupying Muslim lands against the will of the people in those places." His voice was cut off as he was about to send a message to his family. One of his captors then demanded that the British government release Sheikh Abu Qatada in exchange for Johnston.

The BBC's main correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Johnston was kidnapped shortly after leaving his office to go home on 12 March. Gunmen intercepted his car and drove off with him. The Army of Islam released an earlier message on 9 May in which it claimed responsibility for his abduction.

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