BBC's Johnston 'imagined own death' during kidnap

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The Independent Online

The BBC journalist Alan Johnston has spoken in-depth for the first time about his kidnap ordeal.

The reporter, who spent 114 days as the hostage of a Palestinian extremist group in the Gaza Strip, told a BBC Panorama special that he was "at the lowest, lowest ebb of my life; in real danger, frightened".

Describing repeated death threats, Mr Johnston, 45, spoke of the constant fear that he was about to be executed by the Army of Islam. He explained how one of his captors "said that it was being decided whether I would be put to death, maybe Friday, maybe before Friday, maybe afterwards".

"I asked him how it would be done," he said. "I imagined being put into that red suit that they would make me wear for any video work. I imagined perhaps one of them in a hood; imagined having a knee in my back or the back of my neck and then my throat being cut."

He also told of the moment he was forced to put on an explosive belt to film a propaganda video that was broadcast around the world. "He [one of Mr Johnston's captors] said rather chillingly that if I wanted my freedom I needed to co-operate, and I did," he said.

"I was worried at that point. I thought 'I'm not gonna mess around with this video thing'."

The documentary, broadcast last night on BBC1, also reveals messages the group sent to hostage negotiators struggling to free Mr Johnston. One email reads: "If we don't get a positive message soon, we will end the negotiations and will send you a video of his slaughter. Then you will be negotiating not for him but for his body. We are serious. We have enough butchers to fill many refrigerators."

In the interview with Jeremy Vine, Mr Johnston said he tried to understand his kidnappers' motives. "If you want to make jihad against Britain from Gaza, you have very few options," he said. "There's no large British diplomatic presence, there's no British school, no British Airways, no British business. There's just the BBC. And even in the BBC, there's only one British citizen. It was me, and they had me."

Mr Johnston was freed on 4 July, when gunmen from Hamas, the militant Islamist group which controls Gaza, surrounded the stronghold of the Army of Islam. Within hours, the journalist was free. Mr Johnston was the only Western reporter permanently based in Gaza and had been working there for three years when he went missing.