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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 July 2007, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Johnston describes kidnap ordeal
Alan Johnston after his release
Johnston was the only Western reporter based in Gaza

BBC correspondent Alan Johnston has been released after 114 days in captivity in the Gaza Strip. He describes the "appalling experience" at the hands of his captors, called the Army of Islam.

I am hugely grateful to all the people - an amazing number of people that worked on the Palestinian side, the British government, the BBC from top to bottom, and a huge amount of support from BBC listeners and viewers.

I had a radio almost throughout, and was able to follow all the extraordinary level of support and interest in my case, and it was a huge psychological boost.

I am immensely grateful. It's just the most fantastic thing to be free.

It was an appalling experience as you can imagine - 16 weeks kidnapped, sometimes quite terrifying, and frightening always because I didn't know how it was going end...

I literally dreamt many times of being free, and always woke up back in that room

It was like being buried alive really, removed from the world and occasionally terrifying...

It became almost hard to imagine normal life again.

I literally dreamt many times of being free, and always woke up back in that room. And now it really is over, and it really is indescribably good.

Last night, when they took me downstairs and said you're going to Britain, they had actually said that once before when they moved me to another prison, so I was really fighting the desire to believe that it was all about to end.

And even when I was in the car, I thought at first 'They are moving me again', and I thought maybe they're handing me on to new kidnappers, but then as we got deeper and deeper into Gaza City, I really began at last to believe that maybe we were finishing it.

When they let me out of the car, there were gunmen around and so on and I thought, 'No, no these are more kidnappers', but then I saw [BBC reporter] Fayed Abu Shammala who I'd worked with for three years and the most fantastic moment, and I really only then, only then believed it was over.

'Told what to say'

[The captors] were often rude and unpleasant, as you can imagine.

They did threaten my life, really, a number of times in various ways.

There was one 24-hour period when they seemed to get very angry with the negotiation process, and they chained me up by my hands and ankles. But that only lasted 24 hours.

You know, there were things that I said in [in a video posted by his captors on the internet on 1 June] about the situation in Gaza which were factually true.

They weren't interested in any kind of truth, they were interested in their world view being put over

There were other things I said which were factually not correct, and absolutely all of it lacked any of the kind of context that would make it any kind of truth.

But they weren't interested in any kind of truth, they were interested in their world view being put over, and my feeling was that nobody takes those kind of videos seriously.

And again, with the video involving the explosive jacket, I was told what to say there. You really have very little choice in those situations. I think it is, again, part of the wider nightmare of what you go through in that situation...

I think I'm OK. It was an extraordinary level of stress and psychological pressure for a long, long time, and obviously difficult to keep your mind in the right place, a constant battle.

But I do feel that I've probably got through it as well as I could've, I probably won't know for a while but I feel as well as I could I think...

'Dangerous group'

I was in Gaza for three years, and I know very well what Palestinian culture is, and the extraordinary warmth and hospitality - especially of Gaza.

I knew that the handful of people that kidnapped me were a complete aberration - something completely other.

My memories of Gaza will be very much of the best kind, despite what happened to me.

The kidnappers seemed very comfortable and very secure in their operation until... it became clear that Hamas would be in charge

It's true that the kidnappings - I covered 27 of them here, almost all of them were over in about 12 days.

I knew that there was one very dangerous group. I knew about them, and I was always afraid of them. They struck first last August, and I was worried that they might get me one day, and they indeed did.

The kidnappers seemed very comfortable and very secure in their operation - until a couple of weeks ago when it became clear that Hamas would be in charge of the security situation on their own here, and after that the kidnappers were much more nervous.

It was appalling really... not to be able to report on the extraordinary turmoil, the events that I could hear going on, the fighting in the streets around the hideout, for days on end and I just knew the scale of things that were happening.

It's the biggest story since I've been in Gaza, but I couldn't utter a word.






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