DCSIMG

The 'very grounded' journalist who won acclaim for his work in world's war zones

ALAN Johnston is no stranger to risk and knows the dangers of reporting from one of the world's hot spots.

Kidnappings of foreigners in the West Bank, torn by in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah supporters, have been common in recent years. But most of the previous hostages were released only hours or days after being snatched.

Johnston was said to have taken commonsense precautions to stay as safe as possible. Born in Tanzania to Scottish parents Graham and Margaret, Johnston was educated at Dollar Academy and later Dundee University, where he gained an MA in English and Politics.

He studied journalism at the University of Wales in Cardiff and joined the BBC in 1991 as a sub-editor in the BBC World Service newsroom.

He later spent eight years as a foreign correspondent, working in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan and in Afghanistan, where he reported from the capital Kabul while it was still under Taleban control.

After a spell working in London as a programme editor on The World Today, he was appointed as a general reporter in the World Service newsroom.

In 2003, he won a bronze at the Sony Radio Academy Awards for a report on how life had changed in the Afghan city of Herat since the fall of the Taleban.

The judges described it as "a lyrical exercise in reportage". They added: "From the outset, the beauty of the Afghan landscape was vividly evoked, as were the political tensions wrought under the new local rule of warlord Ismael Khan."

He was the only foreign correspondent from a major media organisation based in Gaza. His three-year posting, where he submitted reports for radio and TV, was due to end on 1 April - less than three weeks after he was kidnapped.

Mark Brayne, a former foreign correspondent for Reuters and the BBC who now works as a psychotherapist, last week described Johnston as a "toughie" who was "very grounded".

He added: "People are particularly distressed and shocked by the fact that it is Alan - he is absolutely not somebody who courted danger in any sense."

SHADOWY GROUPS LINKED TO KEN BIGLEY KILLERS

TERROR groups calling themselves the Jihad and Tawhid Brigades - or "Brigades of Holy War and Unity" - have been linked to a series of beheadings of foreigners, including Ken Bigley, who was British, and suicide bombings on hotels across the Middle East.

Although officials said the organisation which claimed it had killed Alan Johnston was not previously known to be operating in Gaza, a similarly named group has been described as Iraq's branch of al-Qaeda.

That network first emerged as a group of mainly Jordanian individuals under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, following his release from a Jordanian prison in 1999. From May 2002, Zarqawi worked closely with Ansar al-Islam, until that group and its members were scattered following intense action in northern Iraq in 2003.

Zarqawi's group found prominence following the attacks against the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August, 2003 and the kidnap and televised beheading of US hostage Nicolas Berg in May 2004.

Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike two years ago and he was replaced as the group's leader by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

The brigades admitted beheading several foreigners, including Mr Bigley and two Americans after taking them hostage in 2004. A video released by the kidnappers showed the killing of Mr Bigley, 62, from Liverpool, in which his severed head was held up.

The group also claimed responsibility for a triple suicide bombing which killed 60 people and injured more than 100 at three hotels in Amman, Jordan, in November 2005.

The bombings at the Radisson SAS, Hyatt Amman and Days Inn hotels were carried out almost simultaneously by three male suicide bombers. One of the bombers blew himself up at a wedding party.

The group also said it was responsible for an abortive attack on a US warship at the Red Sea port of Aqaba three months earlier. Rockets missed the ship but hit a Jordanian army warehouse, killing one soldier and wounding another.

Three Syrians and an Iraqi were sentenced to death in December for their part in the attack.

It was not clear last night whether the Palestinian group was linked to its Iraqi-based namesake.

But according to reports in Israel, the Gaza organisation appears to be newly formed and its affiliation was not clear.

 
 
 

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