Monday, March 12, 2007

The BBC says it is concerned for the safety of its correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Alan Johnston. The BBC said it had been unable to make contact with Johnston , however it did not make any comments on Palestinian reports that he had been kidnapped.

Johnston's car was found abandoned in Gaza City shortly after he left his office to drive home.

Jaime Razuri, a photographer working for Agence France-Presse (AFP), was kidnapped January 1, 2007 and released a week later. On October 24, 2006, the Spanish photographer Emilio Morenatt of the Associated Press (AP) was kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen and freed later that day.

In all, 14 journalists in all have been kidnapped in Gaza since 2004. Johnston, 44, has been the BBC's correspondent in Gaza for three years.

The BBC stated that:

We are currently unable to contact him and are concerned for his safety. We are trying to gather as much information as possible.

Details of what happened are sketchy. Palestinian police said four gunmen were seen in the vicinity of where Johnston's car was found. Palestinian Interior Minister Sayeed Sayyam said Johnston's disappearance was a "criminal act". Palestinian security forces set up checkpoints around Gaza and were searching for Johnston.

One of the few Western correspondents still inside Gaza itself, Johnston has been described by the BBC as a

...highly experienced and respected reporter...

According to Paul Adams, now the BBC's diplomatic correspondent, himself a former Middle East reporter, said that:

It is his [Johnston's] job to bring us day after day reports of the Palestinian predicament in the Gaza Strip

Johnston was born in Tanzania and educated in Scotland. He joined the BBC in 1991 and has spent eight of the last 16 years as a correspondent, generally in the Middle East (in Nations such as Uzbekistan and Afghanistan). Johnston is on his last few weeks in Gaza.