BBC reporter could be released within next few hours

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Poster outside Bush House, home of the BBC World Service

A spokesman for the Hamas organisation has indicated that the BBC reporter Alan Johnston kidnapped in Gaza on 12 March would be released within hours.

"The BBC journalist will be released within the next hours, today", said Abu Osameh al-Mo'ti, Hamas spokesman from Iran.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official in Gaza was however more cautious about the situation, saying that "There are encouraging indicators that he will be released in the near future. But we cannot determine this in terms of hours."

Later, a spokesman for the group said to be holding Alan, the Army of Islam denied the release was imminent. The group is demanding that Abu Qatada, described by the United Kingdom government as "significant international terrorist", be released and said that "If they don't meet these demands there will be no release of this prisoner."

Earlier this month Johnston appeared in a video in which the group holding him demanded that Britain released Muslim prisoners.

The UK Foreign Office described the ongoing confusion as distressful to Alan Johnston's family and friends. The BBC has said that "We are watching developments very closely."