Obscure Palestinian group says it is holding BBC correspondent


May 10, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- An obscure Palestinian group claimed in a tape released yesterday that it was holding BBC correspondent Alan Johnston and demanded as a condition of his release that the British government free a jailed Muslim cleric.

The statement, if confirmed, would be the first public demand made by kidnappers since Johnston was seized at gunpoint in Gaza City two months ago. The BBC said the tape shows a picture of his identification card, a possible sign that the claim is true, but not one of Johnston.

The recorded statement, by a group called Army of Islam, was provided to the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera television network, though not aired.

"We demand from Britain that it release our prisoners and particularly Sheik Abu Qatada the Palestinian, and in this regard we do not forget our prisoners in other infidel countries," the statement said, according to Al-Jazeera's English-language Web site.

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