BBC reporter Alan Johnston, held by a small Gaza Islamist group that kidnapped him nearly four months ago, was released Wednesday. His freedom followed several hours of gunfire between Hamas and the kidnapping group, with Hamas surrounding the complex in which Johnston was held. At least one passerby was reported killed.
As the battle developed, a Hamas official said, "It could be that Johnston will be killed, but we are determined to put an end to this kidnapping business and show who's boss."
Johnston was displayed Wedensday morning at a Hamas press conference at Hamas Authority prime minister Ismail Haniyeh’s home in Gaza City’s Shati neighborhood. “It is just the most fantastic thing to be free,” Johnston said. “It was at times quite terrifying. I dreamt many times of being free, and always woke up back in that room. Now it really is over.”
Johnston expressed his thanks to Hamas and its efforts for winning his freedom.
In recent days, Hamas and Army of Islam, a group run by Gaza’s powerful Doghmush clan, have exchanged fire and kidnapped each others’ members. The release reportedly came about after Hamas agreed not to crack down on Army of Islam and the latter agreed to coordinate attacks with Hamas in the future.
Hamas Syrian chief Khaled Mashaal said that the affair proved that Hamas could bring order to Gaza better than Fatah ever could. "Today we celebrate with Johnston’s family, the BBC and our people the freedom of Alan Johnston,” Mashaal told Reuters.
At least two people were killed and two others wounded in Gaza City and Khan Yunis Wednesay in exchanges of fire betweein Hamas and other terrorist clans as Hamas continues to assert its control over the region.