BBC TV Reporter Kidnapped In Gaza, Security Officials Say

Monday, March 12th 2007, 6:07 pm
By: News On 6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Masked Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a BBC reporter from his car in Gaza City on Monday, Palestinian security officials said.

As he was being taken, the journalist threw a business card on the street that identified him as Alan Johnston of the BBC, the officials said.

Four gunmen carried out the kidnapping, and Johnston's car was found abandoned near his Gaza City apartment, said the officials, who asked that their names not be used as they were not authorized to speak to the media. Police found the lease of the rental car, which showed it was rented to the BBC.

After the kidnapping, Palestinian security forces set up security checks on roads leading out of Gaza City to the south.

The news network said Johnston was from Scotland and has been reporting from Gaza for the past three years. The BBC bureau chief in Jerusalem, Simon Wilson, said his news network had lost contact with Johnston but Wilson could not immediately confirm a kidnapping.

The BBC press office in London issued a brief statement saying it was ``currently unable to contact him and are concerned for his safety. We are trying to gather as much information as possible.''

The Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association, which represents foreign journalists in Israel and the Palestinian areas, appealed for Johnston's immediate release.

``We ask all in Gaza to respect the rights and safety of the press,'' it said in a statement.

In the past 18 months, more than a dozen foreign journalists and aid workers have been abducted in Gaza, an area plagued by crime, political violence and lawlessness. Most of the kidnappings have been carried out by gunmen seeking favors from the government or trying to settle scores with rivals.

In most cases, victims have been released unharmed within hours. An exception was the abduction of two Fox News employees last summer who were held for two weeks, prompting many foreign journalists to avoid Gaza.

In Gaza City, a spokesman for Hamas, the Islamic militant group which heads the Palestinian government, condemned Johnston's abduction.

``We call on these criminal groups to stop this destruction of our reputation and to let this journalist free,'' he told The Associated Press.