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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 July 2007, 01:51 GMT 02:51 UK
Alan Johnston on the front line
Alan Johnston
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza

BBC correspondent Alan Johnston has been freed by his captors in Gaza after his abduction nearly four months ago. He disappeared after leaving the BBC office on 12 March. Alan has reported from conflict zones including Afghanistan as well as Gaza as these extracts from his previous reports show.

Jan, 2006: ABDUCTIONS IN GAZA

In Iraq an abduction can end in the most brutal murder. But fortunately Gaza is not Iraq, nothing like it. So far, all the foreigners kidnapped here have been freed quite quickly and unharmed.

Often they have been used as bargaining chips, a way for a group of gunmen to get attention.

Gaza is awash with bands of militants: the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the Jenin Brigade, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigade and so on.

Masked members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade
Gaza is home to armed groups including the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade
They used to attack the occupying Israeli troops and settlers. But the settlements were abandoned in the autumn when the army pulled out, and now the boys from the Brigades find themselves with time on their hands.

They want proper jobs in this poverty-stricken place, and usually they want to be allowed to join the security services. It is ironic really. Gaza is the only place in the world where your kidnapper's one demand is that he should be allowed to become a policeman.

And the kidnap craze has thrown up moments of black humour.

Against the social grain

The gunmen are not always crack division militants, more Keystone Kidnappers. While an Italian journalist was being led off to a hideout he had to climb a fence. And when one of his abductors started the climb he absentmindedly handed the Italian his gun. Surely it is the first thing they teach you at kidnapper's school, never give the hostage your machinegun.

And the whole business of kidnapping goes very much against the local social grain. Palestinians are extremely hospitable people, and one of the dangers of being abducted here must be that you could get fed to death.

And the other day I heard that a foreign journalist wrongly thought he was about to be lifted, and being Japanese, he went into martial arts mode. Just part of the madness of Gaza, a Japanese journo mistakenly Kung Fu fighting in a refugee camp. I wonder how long he went at it before they could persuade him that it was not necessary.

What you fear most is a bungled rescue attempt. Winkling out a hostage safely is not easy - even for the world's best trained police - and Gaza's finest could not really be described in that way.

Oct, 2001: MEETING GENERAL DOSTUM, AFGHANISTAN

The chopper put us down close to the front. The place bustled with General Dostum's fighters, many in traditional Uzbek dress; tightly-bound turbans and long padded coats for keeping out the icy winds of the steppe.

General Dostum
General Dostum is one of the most powerful Afghan warlords
Far away, across a plain, a column of armed horsemen was making its way down a hillside. They hit the flat ground and broke into a canter. This was Uzbek cavalry, perhaps 100 strong, surging towards us, dust rising from the pounding hooves. And there at the centre of the line, on a white charger, rode General Dostum himself.

As the riders reached us they reined in hard. There was a great neighing of horses and stamping of hooves. We were engulfed in dust, and the gathered soldiers roared in salute of their commander-in-chief.

Photo opportunity

The general dismounted and strode towards me, a huge man in a turban, his Uzbek jacket reaching down to his riding boots, and in his hand he carried a whip.

He was orchestrating what amounted to a grandiose photo opportunity. His fighters had had some success, and he wanted to make sure that the BBC and the outside world knew about it.

In his deep, booming voice he joked with his troops and gave a running commentary as he strode down a line of captured Taleban vehicles. The General glowered briefly at a forlorn group of six Taleban prisoners of war.

He lined up his senior officers and introduced them to me one by one. He had been angered by some report in the media that his generals had been absent from the front. He wanted to make the point that they were, in fact, all there putting in a good day's work.

Picnic like no other

The mountains of Hindu Kush
Afghanistan's rugged terrain is an obstruction to conquest or control
Next a string of jeeps took us rocketing up a hillside. At the summit, arrangements had been made for a picnic like no other.

There were carpets and cushions spread out on the grass, and there was chicken and rice and fruit and nuts and Pepsi.

The guns on the front line were silent, and as we ate and drank we gazed at the hills that turned blue in the distance as they rose and fell towards Iran.

The general talked of politics and war, and at one stage he pointed a chicken bone at a peak off to the left and said "see that mountain, the one with the snow on it? Well I captured it three days ago."



SEE ALSO
Fears for BBC Gaza correspondent
12 Mar 07 |  Middle East

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