BBC TV Reporter Kidnapped in Gaza

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Masked Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a BBC reporter from his car in Gaza City on Monday, Palestinian security officials said.

As he was being taken, the journalist threw a business card on the street that identified him as Alan Johnston of the BBC, the officials said.

Four gunmen carried out the kidnapping, and Johnston’s car was found abandoned near his Gaza City apartment, the officials said. Police found the lease of the rental car, which stated the vehicle was rented to the BBC.

After the kidnapping, Palestinian security forces set up security checks on roads leading out of Gaza City to the south.

The news network said Johnston was from Scotland and has been reporting from Gaza for the past three years. The BBC bureau chief in Jerusalem, Simon Wilson, said his news network had lost contact with Johnston but Wilson could not immediately confirm a kidnapping.

In the past 18 months, more than a dozen foreign journalists and aid workers have been abducted in Gaza, an area plagued by crime, political violence and lawlessness. Most of the kidnappings have been carried out by gunmen seeking favors from the government or trying to settle scores with rivals.

In most cases, victims have been released unharmed within hours. An exception was the abduction of two Fox News employees last summer who were held for two weeks, prompting many foreign journalists to shy from entering Gaza.

The last foreigner taken hostage was Jaime Razuri, 50, a Peruvian photographer with the French news agency, who was abducted at gunpoint on Jan. 1 and released a week later.

In October, AP photographer Emilio Morenatti was abducted in Gaza City and freed unharmed after 15 hours.

In Gaza City, a spokesman for Hamas, the Islamic militant group which heads the Palestinian government, condemned Johnston’s abduction.

“We call on these criminal groups to stop this destruction of our reputation and to let this journalist free,” he told The Associated Press.

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