Fears for kidnapped journalist

In a statement sent to news organisations, a previously unheard of Palestinian group, the brigades of Tawheed and Jihad, said it killed 44 year old BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston to support demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

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However, the BBC and the Palestinian government both said there was no evidence to back up the claim.

"The BBC is aware of these reports," the corporation said in a statement. "But we have no independent verification of them."

The group claiming to have killed him is unknown in Gaza, but the name has been used elsewhere in the Middle East by organisations linked to al-Qaeda.

“This party that issued the statement about the so-called killing is unknown to the security services," Palestinian Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh told a news conference in Gaza City. "There is no information to confirm the killing of Johnston until now."

Mr Johnston was snatched at gunpoint in Gaza City on March 12. Since then there had been no demands from his captors or any word on his condition.

He has been missing longer than any other foreigner kidnapped in Gaza. The only foreign reporter still based in Gaza, he was snatched just weeks before he was scheduled to end his three-year stint there.

Other news organisations withdrew their foreign-born reporters because of the deteriorating security situation there.

The shaven-headed reporter, who was single, was born in the coastal town of Lindi, Tanzania, on May 17, 1962.

He was educated at Dollar Academy in the small town of Dollar in central Scotland, and earned a master of arts postgraduate degree in English and Politics from the nearby University of Dundee and a diploma in Journalism Studies from the University of Wales in Cardiff.

Mr Johnston joined the BBC in January 1991 as a sub-editor in the BBC World Service newsroom before becoming the corporation's Tashkent correspondent from 1993 to 1995.

He also served as the BBC's Kabul correspondent from 1997 to 1998.

He returned to London and the BBC World Service to be a programme editor of The World Today and then a general reporter in the BBC World Service newsroom.

More than a dozen foreign journalists and aid workers have been abducted by gunmen in the Gaza Strip in the past 18 months, often in a bid by Palestinian militants to get money or jobs.

Most have been released without major physical injury within hours or days.

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