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Militants renew threat to kill journalist

Story Highlights

• Army of Islam says it's willing to kill BBC correspondent Alan Johnston
• Threat follows Hamas detention of two members of Army of Islam
• Group demands release of bin Laden associate, two others
• After seizing Gaza, Hamas had said Johnston's freedom was imminent
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- The militant group in Gaza claiming to hold BBC correspondent Alan Johnston renewed its threat Tuesday to kill the British journalist who has been held in Gaza since March 12.

The group, Army of Islam, blamed Hamas militants for kidnapping two of its members Tuesday morning while they were leaving a Gaza mosque after morning prayers.

A Hamas spokesman confirmed that its forces arrested two individuals with links to Army of Islam in Gaza.

In the statement, Army of Islam appears to link the detention of its members with the renewed threat to Johnston's life, calling the detention a declaration of war.

The Army of Islam on Sunday posted video and an audio statement from Johnston clad in what appeared to be an explosives vest.

"I do appeal to the Hamas movement and the British government not -- not -- to resort to the tactics of force in an effort to end this," Johnston said in the video clip, which was posted on Islamic militant Web sites.

He warned that his captors would turn their hideout into a "death zone" if any rescue attempt were made.

In its latest communication, the Army of Islam restated its demand that Britain free radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who faces deportation to his home country.

Abu Qatada, who is known as Osama bin Laden's spiritual ambassador in Europe, is being held in Britain for suspected links with terrorist organizations.

British ministers have described him as an "inspiration" for terrorists such as Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker behind the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The group also demanded Jordan free Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman jailed for her involvement in the November 2005 wedding party suicide bombing, one of three nearly simultaneous hotel bombings in Amman that killed 60 people.

In a televised confession shortly after the bombing, al-Rishawi -- the widow of one of the suicide bombers -- said her explosives failed to go off.

Most of those who died in the attacks were Jordanians attending the wedding party.

The Army of Islam also called for the release of Abu Mohamad al-Maqdasi, whose identity is unclear.

Days after they seized control of Gaza, Hamas officials said Johnston's release was imminent, but that was later disputed by an Army of Islam spokesman.

Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad told CNN that the group is directly involved in negotiating Johnston's release.

"We have private channel with these people," Hamad said Monday.

Johnston, 45, joined the BBC in 1991. He said in a video released in early June he was being treated well and was in good health.

He is one of 15 journalists abducted in Gaza since 2004, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. All the others were released unharmed, usually within days of their abductions.

Little is known about the Army of Islam, which also claimed to have taken part in the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli army Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Hamas released an audio message Monday on the anniversary of Shalit's kidnapping, purportedly from the 20-year-old soldier, pleading with Israel to bring about his release.

Hamas called the message a "signal" to Israel that Hamas wants to resume negotiations for the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.

CNN's Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.


vert.johnston.gi.jpg

Alan Johnston appears wearing what he said was an explosives vest in an Army of Islam image taken from a Web site Sunday.

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