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The joy of Alan

Simon Wilson Simon Wilson | 14:52 UK time, Monday, 9 July 2007

The last few days have without doubt been the very best in my 18 years with the BBC.

Alan Johnston and Simon WilsonIt has been an enormous privilege to spend Alan Johnston’s first few days of freedom at his side. (I was the one with the enormous smile in most of the photos and TV footage last Wednesday!).

The dignity and calm professionalism which Alan has displayed since his release has been astonishing, even to those of us who knew him well and knew what a quiet, determined and selfless man he has always been.

As Alan’s friend and immediate senior colleague, I felt an enormous responsibility when he was abducted on 12 March in Gaza City.

For the first three weeks or so, I moved to Gaza myself with a couple of close colleagues to lead our operation. We met the Palestinian president, prime minister and a host of other savoury and less savoury characters who we believed might be able to help.

Later, we stood shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate as their incredibly moving campaign to free Alan took to the streets.

But in the end, we felt forced to leave Gaza because of the threats to us. One grim day, a group of masked and armed men apparently looking for a hostage turned up 20 minutes after one of my colleagues had just left a building in Gaza City. Shortly afterwards, a contact in a western intelligence service gave us chilling and compelling evidence that our every move was being followed by a car full of armed gang members.

So while Alan whiled away the interminable hours in his cell somewhere in Gaza, our efforts had to be focused in from outside. From a base in Jerusalem, we worked closely with British diplomats and other experts sent out from London and stayed in close contact with key colleagues from the BBC Arabic Service still inside Gaza.

As is common in such situations, there were several approaches to us. Some were outright cranks, others clearly had some contacts with the group holding Alan. Expert advice was to check out every possible approach, however unlikely, as it might just prove the key.

In the end, the Hamas takeover in Gaza – which no-one could have predicted – provided a big opening. Now, for the first time, the kidnappers could no longer play off rival powerbases against each other. Hamas immediately placed freeing Alan at the top of its priority list.

We had no advance knowledge of Hamas’s precise plans to free Alan. But in the final few days, I was able to hold private meetings with senior leaders of the organisation in both Damascus and Gaza and impress upon them forcefully, and in private, our desire for a peaceful resolution.

The fact that they achieved this has sparked a debate about whether Hamas should be rewarded politically. Neither I nor the BBC will be entering that debate. But to the individuals from all quarters who worked many long days – and nights – to achieve this result, Alan, myself and all BBC colleagues owe a huge and heartfelt vote of thanks.


Alan Johnson won the hearts and minds of thousands of people from all walks of life for his thought-provoking,fearless reporting. His ordeal hit a sensitive chord and the outpouring of concern,deep respect also goes to show that even terrorists have to succumb to public pressure. It also shows the power of decency over hatred and bitterness.

  • 2.
  • At 01:19 AM on 10 Jul 2007,
  • Hong Lu wrote:

I was pessimistic when first read the news. I was in Edinburgh when he was released. What a joyful moment.

  • 3.
  • At 12:37 PM on 10 Jul 2007,
  • Mwiza wrote:

hey Alan. am glad u r back home with the family. have plenty of rest, but not too much of it. BBC isnt the same without hearing your voice. I miss the way u used to report and your professionalism. may u be kept safe always.hey, have u thought of writing a book?

  • 4.
  • At 03:08 PM on 10 Jul 2007,
  • Janine Stephen wrote:

I am so relieved and delighted that your reporter was released safely. As the days passed, it seemed an unlikely ending - how wonderful that he is now free. May Alan Johnson continue to be inspired to write - it can be such a brave thing to do. Deepest respect to both him and those who worked so hard for his release.

I am glad Alan is home and safe. Its time the world know the truth of what I uncovered on July 27, 2004 and what extremes I went to protect the lives of 22 individuals and a church, a nation and eventually the Middle East on December 8th 2004. My peace plan that I wrote in 2003 was seen by some individuals representing the nation of Iraq on September 11th 2006 at the Iraqi Embassy on New Hampshire Ave in Washington D.C. and stated that that specific truce if it would become possible would create peace and stability throughout the entire region.

An American Patriot Jeff Fisher

  • 6.
  • At 05:48 PM on 10 Jul 2007,
  • jerry hostasek wrote:

hi alan you were in our thoughts for all the days you were imprisoned janine sums it up keep up the good work , hope to read your items in the near future

  • 7.
  • At 10:17 PM on 10 Jul 2007,
  • nehad ismail, camberley, england wrote:

Hamas must not be judged on a single positive act. It has to be judged on its record running Gaza without resorting to intimidation and spreading of fear among the population. So far Hamas has committed some horrendous murderous acts against men loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas. Its behaviour is being carefully monitored and time will tell whether it is worthy of the praise heaped on it in the wake of the freeing of Alan Johnston.

  • 8.
  • At 08:18 AM on 13 Jul 2007,
  • Bryan wrote:

to Simon Wilson,

Just wondering if the following unpublished comment, in response to your article titled "The joy of Alan" broke any of your house rules:

"The fact that they achieved this has sparked a debate about whether Hamas should be rewarded politically. Neither I nor the BBC will be entering that debate."

What do you call this then Mr. Wilson:

Should the world now talk to Hamas?

The BBC not only entered the debate, it actively fostered and encouraged it. However, this is nothing new. The BBC has been legitimising and sanitising the Hamas terror group for years. You have made it abundantly clear which side you are on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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