BBC reporter Alan Johnston

JERUSALEM – Kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston is alive and held by a Palestinian clan in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced today.

Abbas said his intelligence services know which group is holding the correspondent but did not give any details.

Yesterday, WND exclusively quoted top PA intelligence officials stating Johnston is believed to be alive and held by a clan in the Gaza Strip demanding a $5 million ransom.

The officials identified the clan to WND as the Dugmash family, a powerful Gaza-based Palestinian clan affiliated with local terrorist organizations and ideologically aligned with global jihad groups.

The information follows claims by a previously unknown Islamist group this weekend that it killed the British reporter.

”Our intelligence services have confirmed to me that he’s alive,” Abbas told reporters in Stockholm.

According to Palestinian security officials speaking to WND yesterday, Johnston’s captors are demanding a $5 million ransom and have threatened if the money is not paid they will either sell Johnston to another group or kill him.

The officials said Abbas and other parties involved in the investigations are hesitant to allow the ransom to be paid for fear the money will be used to enhance the position of the Dugmash clan against other Gaza-based factions, including Abbas’ Fatah organization.

“We are sure any ransom money will be used to purchase weapons and make the Dugmash’s stronger,” said a top Palestinian security official.

A leading member of a Palestinian terrorist organization said to be close to the Dugmash clan told WND he was aware of the $5 million ransom.

On Sunday, a group calling itself the Brigades of Tawheed and Jihad sent a statement to news organizations claiming it had killed Johnston. The group was not previously known to operate in Gaza; its namesake has been used elsewhere in the Middle East, including in Iraq, by organizations linked to al-Qaida.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials told WND the murder claim likely was an attempt by the kidnappers to exert pressure for the ransom to be paid.

“We have indications the Dugmashs are even willing to sell Johnston to another group if there is interest. They will sell to the highest bidder,” said a Palestinian security official.

Some members of the Dugmash clan lead the “Saladin resistance department” of the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The Committees is accused of orchestrating attacks along with groups affiliated with al-Qaida and has carried out anti-American attacks. Israel says the Committees was responsible for the bombing of a U.S. convoy in Gaza in 2003 in which three American government contractors were killed.

A significant number of Dugmash clan members left the Committees last year, complaining the group was not “Muslim enough.” They formed a new organization, the Palestine Army of Islam, which bills itself as the closest Palestinian organization ideologically to al-Qaida. The Army of Islam is one of three terrorist groups that claimed responsibility in June for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials said the Dugmash clan was strongly suspected of kidnapping two Fox News reporters in Gaza in August held for two weeks but later released.

WND previously featured an English-language debut exclusive interview with the leader of the Army of Islam, Mumtaz Dugmash, also known as Abu Muhammad.

Abu Muhammad, speaking from Gaza, said in August during the Fox News kidnap ordeal he understood the “necessity” of carrying out abductions of reporters.

“This support of America brought the killing of thousands of Palestinians and Muslims all around history. We cannot ignore the atrocities of the Americans in killing Palestinians and Muslims all over the world,” said Abu Mohammed.

“We can understand very well our brothers who made this act (of kidnapping) was a desperate act in order to cry out in front of the whole world against the atrocities of the Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine and the subjugation of Muslims all over the region.”

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