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Kidnapped BBC Journalist Freed in Gaza


Kidnapped BBC Journalist Alan Johnston has been freed by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, he was freed with the help of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Alan Johnston emerged from his nearly four months in captivity looking tired and pale and walking stiffly. He was handed over to Hamas officials as journalists shouted his name in celebration.

Johnston spoke of his ordeal at a news conference in Gaza.

"The psychological pressures and stresses are absolutely huge, and it's a huge battle to keep your mind in the right place and stay healthy in every way you can, and just the most unimaginable relief that it's finally over," he said.

Johnston's life appeared to be in serious danger last week, when the shadowy group holding him, the Army of Islam, posted a video of him wearing an explosives belt. He said his life was threatened several times.

"The last 16 weeks of course [were] just the very worst you can imagine of my life. It was like being buried alive really, removed from the world, and occasionally terrifying," said Johnston. "We were in the hands of people who were dangerous and unpredictable."

But when Hamas took over Gaza last month in a civil war, it worked for Johnston's release. Palestinian analyst Hassan Abu Shanah says it is a sign that Hamas is in full control.

"Everyone knows that Hamas is very powerful now on the ground here in Gaza," he said. "I believe that no one will work against these troops because they are taking over all the Gaza Strip."

Johnston said it is "fantastic" to be free. He said he often dreamed of waking up a free man. Now, it is a dream come true.

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