By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
A group claiming to be holding the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston today demanded that British authorities release the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada.
The BBC is studying a video tape and audio message released overnight in which a little-known Islamist group, the Army of Islam, claims responsibility for kidnapping the corporation’s Gaza correspondent.
* Names of Islamic terrorist groups are smoke and mirrors,- they all read the same Koran and all subscribe to the same criminal ideology. It is irrelevant what they call themselves.
They are understood to contain a demand for Britain to release Qatada, detained under UK anti-terror legislation.
While they are understood not to contain any “proof of life” images of Johnston, they do include a photograph of his BBC identity card.
Last month a different jihadist group issued a still unverified claim that Johnston had been executed.
Terrorist Abu Qatada
The BBC declined to comment on the contents of the tape, which was delivered to the Gaza office of Al-Jazeera television, until they had been studied fully.
But the audio message, which was uploaded to a website used by al-Qa’eda propagandists, contains the first demand to have been publicly aired since Johnston was taken from the streets of Gaza eight weeks ago.
“We demand that Britain free our prisoners, particularly the honourable Sheikh Abu Qatada al Filistini,” a voice said the audio recording.
“We have not forgotten our prisoners in other infidel countries, to whom we say: ‘Free our prisoners or we will retaliate in the same manner without discriminating’.”
* Once again: For Muslims collective punishment is all in good order. If infidels discriminate against Muslims in the same fashion all hell breaks lose…
Qatada, who denies any link to al-Qa’eda, was arrested 10 months after Britain tightened anti-terror rules in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Since then he has fought a five-year-long legal battle against deportation to Jordan, during which the British Government has called him a “significant international terrorist”.
Like many residents of Jordan he has strong Palestinian roots. While al-Qa’eda has failed to develop strong links in the Palestinian communities of Gaza and the West Bank, it is feared the Army of Islam might be an attempt by the group to establish a foothold there.
The Army of Islam broke cover in Gaza for the first time last year when it claimed joint responsibility for the cross-border raid that led to the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier defending the Gaza perimeter fence.
Mohammed al-Madhoun, a political adviser to the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, said the demands made in the audio recording were the same that the group presented privately to the Palestinian government.
“These demands are beyond the boundaries of the Palestinian area and I do not think they are do-able,” Mr Madhoun said.
He said the British Government had been made aware of the captors’ demands but he did not expect Britain to meet them.
Richard Makepeace, the British Consul General in East Jerusalem, met Mr Haniyeh yesterday to discuss the case. It was the second such meeting since the kidnapping.
Mr Madhoun added: “Once again we are demanding that Johnston’s captors release him immediately because every day that passes with him in captivity brings more harm to the Palestinian cause and to the image of our people.”
Mr Haniyeh said last week that his aides in the Palestinian government were seeking a possible meeting with people close to those involved in the kidnapping.
There have been precious few leads about the reporter since he was abducted at gunpoint as he drove home from work.
It had been thought the kidnapping was the work of criminal elements from the Dogmush clan, a large Gazan family with scant respect for the law and a large private arsenal of weapons.
But it is possible they may have sold him on to the highest bidder, possibly a jihadist group.
The Palestinian leadership has repeatedly said that it believes Johnston to be alive.
He was the only western resident journalist in Gaza and was within days of completing a three year tour of duty when he was abducted.
From the Telegraph UK
“We officially declare that the Army of Islam kidnapped the journalist Johnston,” said the sound recording, whose authenticity could not be verified, but amounted to the first claim for the Briton’s disappearance.Â
* You see, they call themselves ‘the army of Islam’- and commit terror, kidnappings for ransom and every possible crime in the name of their religion. But our news services still don’t call them Islamic terrorists,Â but because a Brit is involved they call them “extremists”- what a pathetic bunch of wankers!