- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A British reporter kidnapped in the Gaza Strip nearly three months ago appeared yesterday in a videotape posted on an Islamist Web site saying his captors had treated him well, denouncing Israel and criticizing British and U.S. Mideast policy.

There was no date on the recording — the first sign of life from Alan Johnston since his abduction — and it was not clear why his captors decided to post it. The British Broadcasting Corp. journalist, who has been covering the Palestinian territories for three years, has a reputation for objectivity, and it seemed likely that he was reciting what he was told to say.

The videotape appeared on the Al-Ekhlaas Web site, frequently used by Islamic militants. It bore the logo of the Army of Islam, the shadowy Palestinian group that is thought to be holding the 45-year-old reporter, and opened with Arabic chanting and verses from the Koran.

Mr. Johnston had appeared about to outline conditions for his release, only to have the tape cut away to an unidentified voice in Arabic demanding freedom for Islamic prisoners, including a radical cleric with ties to al Qaeda imprisoned in Britain. The demand was accompanied by English subtitles.

Mr. Johnston looked fit and calm during the three minutes he spoke.

“My captors have treated me very well. They’ve fed me well. There has been no violence towards me at all and I am in good health,” he said before beginning a litany of complaints about Israel and British and U.S. Mideast policy.

“In three years here in the Palestinian territories, I witnessed the huge suffering of the Palestinian people, and my message is that the suffering is continuing and it is unacceptable,” he said as he blamed Israel.

He denounced Britain and the United States for causing suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories and condemned Britain specifically for “occupying Muslim lands against the will of the people in those places.”

Mr. Johnston also skewered Britain for its role in Israel’s creation on land that the British once administered, calling Israel “the cause of all the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

“We the British are completely to blame, along with the Americans, for the situation in Iraq,” he said, adding that “the British are the main force in Afghanistan, causing all the trouble to all the simple Afghans who simply want to live.”

Mr. Johnston was shown seated from the waist up, wearing what looked like a red sweat shirt, and speaking against a dark gray backdrop.

He started relaying a message to his family but was cut off. Subtitles then appeared on the videotape, saying, “The BBC refused to take this message to his family.”

“We are aware of the reports, and we are investigating urgently,” said Simon Wilson, the BBC bureau chief in Jerusalem.

In a statement, Mr. Johnston’s family said that they were “very pleased” to see him but that the video was “clearly distressing.”

Shaker Shabat, a Gaza-based analyst, said the tape was a signal that Mr. Johnston’s release was imminent.

“They are showing us evidence that Johnston is alive, and that is to seal the deal,” he said.

Footage of two Fox News journalists kidnapped last summer was released days before they were freed after two weeks in captivity.

The Army of Islam was one of three factions involved in the June 2006 kidnapping of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who has not been released.

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