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Freed reporter's Al Qaeda led kidnappers who planned to kill him in rescue attempt insulted they weren't thanked for their treatment

July 8, 2007

Al-Qaeda veteran led Johnston kidnap gang

Marie Colvin

THE mastermind behind the kidnapping of Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent, is an experienced terrorist who fought with Al-Qaeda alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He can be named for the first time today as Qattab al-Maqdesy, a native of Gaza who is in his late thirties.

Johnston, who arrived back in Britain yesterday to be reunited with his parents in Argyll, was held for 114 days in Gaza before being freed last week.

Al-Maqdesy was himself seized by Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, as part of the process that led to the BBC reporter's release.

His role in the abduction may explain why the kidnappers, initially regarded as a criminal gang seeking a ransom, made a series of demands to free Islamic extremists in Britain and Jordan.

Most of the group's members are from the powerful Dagmoush family that is based in the Sabra area of southern Gaza City, including its leader Mumtaz Dagmoush, 28.

The kidnappers expressed bizarre resentment that Johnston, 45, had done nothing to thank them for their hospitality while they held him at gunpoint in a tiny cell.

"We used to give him everything he wanted," Abu Zobayer, an aide to Dagmoush, said.

"We spent 70 on his food every week. The Matouk restaurant [one of the best eateries in Gaza] got rich because we had to feed him."

Johnston has said that he fell ill from the food he was served. Zobayer commented: "It's not our problem that we gave him everything and he only ate a little."

Although they did not torture him physically, the kidnappers seemed to have no concept of the psychological torture they were inflicting on the BBC correspondent.

"We had people with him all the time to try to help him to relax," said Zobayer.

"We gave him a radio so that he could listen to his own channel. I myself sat with him to try to make him feel comfortable and feel that he will be released."

Unlike other foreign hostages, who were released relatively quickly, Johnston was held for almost four months by the gang, which called itself the Army of Islam.

It was only when al-Maqdesy was arrested by officials from Hamas a fortnight ago that real negotiations started.

Hamas officials claimed that al-Maqdesy knew the radical cleric Abu Qatada, a Palestinian who has been described as Al-Qaeda's recruiting chief in Europe. He has been convicted of terrorist charges in Jordan and is currently detained in Britain.

A member of the kidnap gang said last week that with Hamas threatening to attack, an order was given to kill Johnston if there was an assault.

"Until the last few minutes, one of our men with Alan had the instruction that if there was an attack, he must not think of defending himself, his duty is to kill the journalist," said the gang member.

The deal for Johnston's release, agreed between Hamas and the Army of Islam, freed al-Maqdesy and allowed the Dagmoush family to retain their large arsenal, which includes shoulder-launched grenades, and an amnesty for those involved in the kidnap.

Hamas clinched the deal with a previously unreported prisoner exchange on the night of Johnston's release.

The Army of Islam released 13 Hamas captives and Hamas released four Army of Islam prisoners.

One of the released captives was the son of Mahmoud Zahar, the foreign minister in the Hamas government.

This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at