London-based Arabic language newspaper Al-Hayat reported Monday that BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston may have staged his own kidnapping. Shortly afterwards, the BBC stated that this report was completely unfounded.
The report quoted Palestinian sources as saying that Johnston received notice of his dismissal from the broadcasting corporation, and subsequently fabricated the kidnapping in order not to lose his job. But a BBC source told Ynet that Johnston was not facing dismissal.
The report also said that Johnston was seen waiting for one of his captors for about 15 minutes on the day of the kidnapping, before accompanying him to an undisclosed location.
Johnston, a resident of Scotland, has been the BBC’s Gaza correspondent for the past 3 years, and was kidnapped on 12 March by four gunmen in the city. According to initial reports, he managed to drop his card on the sidewalk when abducted, which helped security forces identify him.
The report in Al-Hayat said that Palestinian security forces were looking into two possible scenarios with regards to the kidnapping.
According to the first scenario, Johnston is being held hostage by a Palestinian family in the Gaza Strip who hope to receive an estimated $5 million in ransom. The second scenario says he is staying with the family of his own free will.
The sources added that the family holding the BBC reporter hostage has yet to come forward with official demands of ransom in exchange for his Johnston’s release. “It seems the family that kidnapped him is afraid of the response,” the sources said.
The issue has become a source of concern for Palestinian security forces due to the pressure by the British, the United States, and Johnston’s colleagues.
The sources said that although the British want PA security forces to execute an escape operation, they feared that the family was “armed and backed by funds and weapons of other Palestinian sources, which were using them for other purposes”.