After 114 days, Alan Johnston is free - Press Gazette

After 114 days, Alan Johnston is free

Some of the first words spoken by freed journalist Alan Johnston were heartfelt thanks to journalists and listeners around the world who campaigned for his release.

The moment that Johnston, his family and colleagues had hoped for during his 114-day captivity finally came in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Johnston, who listened to the World Service on a radio he was given in the second week of his captivity, said he was aware of the support he received during the series of interviews.

The longest-held Westerner kidnapped in Gaza, Johnston spent his 45th birthday in captivity.

He said he was aware of the protests held in cities including Beijing and Moscow as well as the Monday vigils to mark his kidnap on 12 March by the Army of Islam on his way home from work in Gaza City.

Speaking by telephone to BBC News 24 from the home of sacked Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, Johnston said that he was “hugely grateful to all the people, an amazing number of people, that worked on the Palestinian side, the British Government, the BBC from top to bottom, and the huge amount of support from BBC listeners”.

Johnston, who covered 27 kidnaps during his three-year stint in Gaza said he had been particularly afraid of the Army of Islam which had kidnapped him.

Ceri Thomas, editor of the Today programme, said “The media campaign was obviously significant for him, and it will be of huge comfort to his colleagues to know that some of the things they did – at the time not knowing if he could hear them or not – to hear those quoted back, to hear him say that they made a difference will give people at the BBC a tremendous feeling. One of the good features is that it’s not just been a campaign by journalists, but also by their listeners.”

Fran Unsworth, head of BBC news gathering, said that journalists were highly influential, not with the kidnappers but with the people who wanted this resolved. “I’d like to thank the journalistic community who really backed this campaign, and did not do anything to damage Alan’s chances. As to Alan’s future plans, we’ll take it as it comes.”

Speaking on BBC News 24, director of BBC News Helen Boaden said:”We will take a lot of advice from the police who have experience in hostage taking and psychologists.”