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Army of Islam threatens to kill BBC correspondent Alan Johnston

(RSF/IFEX) - On 18 June 2007, Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm over the contradictory signals coming from Hamas representatives and the Army of Islam militant group about the fate of British reporter Alan Johnston of the BBC, who has been held hostage by the Army of Islam in the Gaza Strip since 12 March.

"We are very worried by the latest developments in this case, especially the irrational demands being made by Johnston's abductors, the radicalisation of their position and their threat to kill him," the press freedom organisation said. "The chaos reigning in the Palestinian Territories is hampering the negotiations and we do not even know if they are being conducted by the dismissed Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismaël Haniyeh, in Gaza or by the Palestinian Authority's President, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah."

After Haniyeh's Islamist party, Hamas, seized control of the Gaza Strip, a Hamas representative in Iran, Abu Osameh al-Mo'ti, told journalists on 16 June that Johnston would be freed "in the next few hours." But a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, was more cautious, saying he could be freed in the next few days. "Major efforts are under way and should result in Alan Johnston being freed soon," he said.

But the Army of Islam, the Palestinian armed group holding Johnston, has denied reaching any agreement with Hamas. "If we do not manage to reach an accord and if the situation gets more complicated for us and our group, then we will ingratiate ourselves to Allah by slaying this journalist," a masked Army of Islam militant said in a video broadcast by the pan-Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera. One of the station's reporters was driven blindfolded to an unknown location to film the statement.

June 20 will mark Johnston's 100th day in captivity. Reporters Without Borders has called on 100 news media outlets around the world to join in an appeal for his release and the release of 14 other journalists currently held hostage in Iraq. The press freedom organisation will unveil the logos of the 100 media outlets on the Champ-de-Mars, opposite the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on 20 June, to demonstrate the extent of the support for their release.

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