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Kidnappers threaten to kill journalist Alan Johnston if rescue attempted

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has said it was deeply shocked by the latest video of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, which his abductors, a group calling itself the Army of Islam, posted on a website used by militants on 24 June 2007. It shows him wearing an explosives belt of the kind used by suicide bombers.

"Johnston's abductors have intensified their threats against him during the three months they have been holding him," the press freedom organisation said. "The latest horrible video is an additional warning. At this dramatic moment, our thoughts go out to his family, who have to face these terrible images."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Johnston is now apparently being used as a human shield by his kidnappers, who have been made nervous by Hamas' threats of a military operation. The use of force cannot be an option. At the same time, the mutual accusations between Fatah and Hamas are playing into the kidnappers' hands. What Johnston needs more than ever is for the Palestinian authorities to negotiate."

In the video filmed by his kidnappers and posted on 24 June, Johnston warns that his life would be in danger if there were any attempt to rescue him by force. He is seen wearing an explosives belt around his waist, over the same red pullover he wore in a video circulated at the start of the month.

"As you can see I have been dressed in what is an explosive belt, which the kidnappers say will be detonated if there was any attempt to storm this area," Johnston said to the camera. "My captors tell me that very promising negotiations were ruined when Hamas and the British government decided to press for a military solution to this kidnapping. The situation is now very serious (. . .) It seems the answer is to return to negotiations, which I am told are very close to reaching a deal."

On 18 June, the Islamist party Hamas issued an ultimatum to Johnston's kidnappers to free him by the end of the day. The Army of Islam reacted with an angry statement reiterating its threats to kill him. The group continues to demand the release of an Islamist militant, Abu Qatada, who has been detained in Britain since 2005. On 24 June, Hamas, which now controls the Gaza Strip, accused President Mahmoud Abbas' party, Fatah, of blocking its attempts to free Johnston. Fatah issued an immediate denial and called on Hamas to provide evidence of his claims.

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