Foreign Policy Blogs

BBC Correspondent Reported Murdered in Gaza

free-alan-johnston.jpgA previously unknown organization calling itself al-Tawhid al-Jihad Brigade has e-mailed the Palestinian Ramattan news agency claiming they have murdered BBC news correspondent, Alan Johnston. Mr. Johnston was abducted in Gaza City on March 12th. He had been reporting from the occupied Palestinian territories for the last three years. The BBC has received no independent verification and is treating the claims regarding Mr. Johnston as rumors. Last week, the BBC aired special programming appealing for Mr. Johnston's release and rallies were held in Gaza in his support.

The group, whose name means oneness of god (Tawhid) and holy struggle (Jihad), shares its name with the al Qa'ida group established by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. The claims state Mr. Johnston's execution was intended to send a message highlighting the plight of Palestinian prisoners. The group claimed a video of the execution would be sent to media outlets. The statement also holds the British and Palestinian governments, as well as the Palestinian president, responsible for Mr. Johnston's execution. So far, no video verifying the statements has surfaced, however, Palestinian officials have expressed concern over the emergence of "al Qa'ida type thinking" among Gaza militants. In the past 18 months, over a dozen journalists have been kidnapped in the Gaza Strip, though most have been quickly released unharmed.

Journalists are obligated to differentiate themselves from combatants and international law treats them as civilians. The BBC World Service has been reporting over the past month that Mr. Johnston was widely known as a press affiliate. Regardless, the first, second, and third Geneva Conventions extend due protection to war correspondents. On December 23rd, 2006, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1738, expressing concern over attacks against "journalists, media professionals and associated personnel, as such, in situations of armed conflict, and calls upon all parties to put an end to such practices."

Militant groups, however, appear to exist somewhat outside the normal conventions of the laws of war. Operating as independent cabals, such as the mafia, criminal enterprises by nature operate with impunity. According to the establishments enacted in the United States, non-US citizens are subject to war crimes tribunals if found in violation of international law. The applicability of the laws of war, however, is complicated when considering the legal status of the occupied Palestinian territories. Regardless, the use of journalists for their audience potential, as in the case of Daniel Pearl, is an abhorrent violation of civility.

To sign the petition calling for Mr. Johnston's release, please visit the BBC here.

For further coverage from the BBC on Mr. Johnston, visit here.

“Free Alan Johnston” photo: Agence France Presse.



Daniel Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer for United Press International covering Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader Levant. He has published works on international and constitutional law pertaining to US terrorism cases and on child soldiers. His first major work, entitled The United States and Israel: The Implications of Alignment, is featured in the text, Strategic Interests in the Middle East: Opposition or Support for US Foreign Policy. He holds a MA in Diplomacy and International Conflict Management from Norwich University, where his focus was international relations theory, international law, and the role of non-state actors.

Areas of Focus:International law; Middle East; Government and Politics; non-state actors