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Freed BBC Journalist Speaks of 'Appalling Experience'


Kidnapped BBC Journalist Alan Johnston, freed from captivity in Gaza early Wednesday, has described his experiences in a meeting with the media in Jerusalem. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, his enormous relief is overshadowed by haunting memories.

Alan Johnston emerged from the British Consulate in Jerusalem a happy man.

"It just is unimaginably good to be free," he said.

He looked and felt like a new man after a haircut, shower and shave.

"Maybe you have to have been a prisoner of some kind for some time to know how good it is just to be able to do the most basic things that freedom allows, not least to get a haircut," said Johnston.

"And you want to do everything at the same time, you know you want to read books, newspapers, go to the movies, go to the beach and sit in the sun and eat and talk and all the rest of it," he added.

So different, he said, than his nearly four months in captivity.

"It was as you can imagine the most appalling experience, like being buried alive and removed from life and sometimes, occasionally quite terrifying, and always frightening in that I just didn't know when it would end or how it would end," he said.

This story had a happy ending, when the shadowy group holding him, the Army of Islam, handed him over to officials of the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza. He said his situation changed when Hamas seized control of Gaza in last month's civil war.

"Hamas is a controversial organization with a lot of problems and so on in terms of relations with the outside world," said Johnston. "But I'm pretty sure if Hamas hadn't come in and stuck the heat on in a big way, I'd still be in that room."

Johnston was the only western journalist based in Gaza. The Gaza Strip has been a no-go zone for western journalists since Johnston was kidnapped, and it is not clear if they will start going back.

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