Alan Johnston after his release (BBC)

JERUSALEM – Hamas’ purported rescue operation today in which kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston was freed from captivity really was a “movie” staged by Hamas to endear itself to the international community and demonstrate it is capable of imposing order in Gaza, a senior Palestinian Authority official charged.

“We’re watching a movie where the thieves in Gaza fall out and one of them claims to be honest and brave, and the other is the bad guy. This Hamas game fools no one,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, chief aid to PA President and Hamas rival Mahmoud Abbas.

Rabbo charged Hamas was in “cahoots” with Johnston’s kidnappers, the Gaza-based Army of Islam, which together with Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit last June. Johnston was held in Gaza for nearly four months.

Hamas leaders denied the rescue operation was staged.

“Our efforts resulted in the freedom of Johnston and prove Hamas is able to restore law and order to the Gaza Strip unlike the corrupt Fatah party,” Hamas spokesman Abu Oubaida told WND.

Hamas chieftain Khaled Meshaal, speaking to reporters from Syria, boasted Hamas has “been able to close this chapter which has harmed the image of our people greatly.”

Johnston was freed after Hamas gunmen closed in around the compound of the Gaza Army of Islam in which Johnston was held.

According to Israeli and Palestinian security sources, the exact location in which Johnston was being kept has been known to Hamas, Fatah and Israeli security organizations for at least two months.

One Hamas gunman involved in the rescue operation told reporters, “After (the Army of Islam) had been surrounded and we had closed in on them, they decided to release. They surrendered with no conditions. We gave them security if they handed him over alive and unharmed and they handed over their weapons.”

Upon being freed, Johnston was transported to the home of Ismael Haniyeh, who was the Palestinian prime minister until Abbas’ dissolved the Hamas-led PA government after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip last month.

Johnston thanked Haniyeh and said Hamas saved his life.

At a news conference in Jerusalem, Johnston again credited Hamas with saving his life.

“I’m pretty sure that if Hamas hadn’t come in and turned the heat on, I’d still be in that room,” Johnston said.

“Hamas has a huge law and order agenda,” he said.

Although Hamas is considered a terror group by most Western governments, Johnston said, Hamas “is better at keeping law and order than many would agree. And God knows Gaza needs law and order.”

Johnston said when he was first kidnapped, he was tied up for a 24-hour period. Afterward, he said he was held in a murky room with one man, where radio was his only contact with the outside world.

Johnston described the man with whom he spent most of his time in captivity: “He was a strange guy who barely spoke to me for days and would just glare at me and fly into rages at tiny things – a door slamming or whatever – and then at other times, once a fortnight, he would come across completely different and friendly, especially if he thought it might be coming to an end, the whole kidnapping,” Johnston told BBC Radio.

At one point, Johnston said, his guard invited him to watch television, and he saw his father giving a news conference calling for his release.

Johnston was abducted from a street in the Gaza Strip March 12, marking the longest detention of any foreign correspondent held captive in Gaza.

Several videos were released taking credit for Johnston’s kidnapping on behalf of the Army of Islam. The videos and statements faxed to news agencies demanded prisoners associated with al-Qaida be freed from British and Jordanian jails.

WND first reported in April senior Palestinian security officials believed Johnston was being held by the Dugmash clan, a powerful Gaza-based Palestinian family affiliated with local terrorist organizations and ideologically aligned with global jihad groups. The Dugmash’s lead the Army of Islam, which later took credit for the kidnapping.

Some members of the Dugmash clan previously 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 organization is accused of orchestrating attacks along with groups affiliated with al-Qaida and has carried out anti-American attacks. Israel says the Committees group 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 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.

Army of Islam chief Mumtaz Dugmash last month was crowned the “prince of al-Qaida in Gaza” in a statement released by al-Qaida leaders in Iraq.

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

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

Dugmash, speaking from Gaza, said last 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 Dugmash.

“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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