The Jordan Times reports today that BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who passed his 45th birthday while in captivity, was released into Hamas custody in Gaza on Wednesday.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers said Johnston’s release marked the beginning of a new era of law and order in the lawless coastal strip, including a crackdown on vigilante gunmen.
However, they also acknowledged they would not disarm Johnston’s captors, the Army of Islam, which has close ties to one of Gaza’s most powerful clans.
West Bank Palestinian Fateh party reaction was positive towards Johnston’s release, but claimed the abduction had been staged by Hamas, which last week carried out a military coup in Gaza:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed Johnston’s release, calling him “the Palestinian people’s friend”. Abbas said groups like the Army of Islam “destroy the authority of law and create a chaotic situation” and must be dismantled.An Abbas aide, Yasser Abed Rabbo, alleged Wednesday that Hamas and the Army of Islam were allies who coordinated the reporter’s kidnapping and release. “I think that this was staged by Hamas to appear as if it respects international law,” Abed Rabbo said.
The BBC identifies further the group holding Johnston:
Alan Johnston did not name his captors, though he clearly knew who they were.
The family is called the Dogmush, and the branch of the clan which held him styled itself as the “Army of Islam”, under the command of Mumtaz Dogmush.
The BBC reports extraordinary efforts on the part of Hamas to free Johnston:
Hamas’s priority is to restore law and order to the Gaza Strip, and one the first items on that agenda was to get Alan Johnston freed.
The group’s Executive Forces, a kind of irregular police force in Gaza, and its military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, deployed in the Dogmush neighbourhood.
Up to five members of the clan were detained in the last few days. There are reports that water and electricity were cut off in some streets.
Calls also came from senior members of the family from different branches to free Alan.
Johnston is fortunate indeed to work for a high-profile organization like the BBC that can organize a worldwide moment of silence or an online petition. How many other reporters have been killed or disappeared without so much publicity?