Gulf & Middle East
Palestinian group claims holding BBC reporter in Gaza
May 9, 2007 - 1:50:07 PM

Gaza, May 9 - A Palestinian militant group claimed responsibility Wednesday for kidnapping BBC reporter Alan Johnston in Gaza and urged London to release a Palestinian held in Britain.

In a video tape sent to the Gaza office of al-Jazeera satellite channel, the Army of Islam demanded London to release Mahmoud Abu Omar, better known as 'the Palestinian Abu Qutada', a key figure involved with Al Qaeda in Europe.

Abu Qutada was arrested in 2002 by the British authorities. He is wanted by the US and also by Jordan, which issued a default judgment of life sentence against him.

In a second audiotape also sent to al-Jazeera Wednesday morning, the group warned the authorities not to try using force to free the British reporter.

The Army of Islam became popular last summer when it joined the military wing of the ruling Hamas in a cross-border raid and captured Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit.

The BBC said it is examining the tape. Sources at the British broadcaster's office in Gaza refused to comment.

The alleged tape abolishes an earlier statement by a group calling itself the Jihad and Tawhid Brigades which said it had killed Johnston, 44, the only Western journalist based full-time in Gaza.

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