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article imageGroup claims it has missing BBC reporter Alan Johnston

By kurtrat     May 9, 2007 in World
A group called Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) claims it has the BBC's missing Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston. It is demanding the release of Muslim prisoners in Britain in exchange for Johnston's release.
Al Jazeera received a tape allegedly from the group and told the BBC. The BBC said it is investigating but had no further comment.
In the tape, the group said: "We demand from Britain that it release our prisoners and particularly Sheikh Abu Qatada the Palestinian and in this regard we do not forget our prisoners in other infidel countries and we say to all of them free our prisoners or we will do the same to you."
This is the first time Johnston's purported abductors have made demands. Johnston is believed to have been snatched at gunpoint on his way home from work in Gaza, March 12.
The group said further: "We won't make an exception for anyone. If you need money to release our prisoners we will give you all you need up to the last dirham we have."
Al Jazeera's Gaza correspondent Nour Odeh said there was no information about Johnston's location, health or the group's intentions. She did note, however, that the absence of any threat could be a positive sign.
She also stated that Jaish al-Islam is a group that only came into prominence last year when it helped capture Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit along with Hamas and Popular Resistance Committees.
Britain's foreign office said: "We are aware of that [sic] a video containing images of Alan Johnston, the British journalist abducted in the Gaza Strip has been released to the press. A video such as this is very distressing to Alan's family, friends and colleagues. We are of course in constant contact with his family and with the BBC.
"We are looking into this as a matter or urgency. In particular, we are continuing to work extremely closely with the Palestinian Authority in order to establish the facts and to try and secure Alan's safe release."
The BBC reported that the recording was not, in fact, a video but an audio tape accompanied by a photograph of Alan Johnston's BBC identity card.
The Palestinian information minister Mustafa Al Barghouti told Al Jazeera: "We are getting close to having him released without financial and political blackmail being conducted.
"What has happened is a criminal act--the people who kidnapped him behaved like a criminal mafia."
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said his aides are trying to arrange a meeting with people close to the group who kidnapped Johnston. An unknown Palestinian group stated last month that it had killed Johnston, but Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said that he was still alive.
The Palestinian information minister also said that it was the Palestinian Authority's goal to release Alan Johnston and to ensure that kidnappings like this did not occur in the future.
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