At last, at last! We are thankful that he is healthy and safe...
--ryan BBC's Alan Johnston Is Released
BBC NEWS Johnston interviewBBC correspondent Alan Johnston has been released by kidnappers in the Gaza Strip after 114 days in captivity.
Mr Johnston, 45, was handed over to armed men in Gaza City. He said his ordeal was like "being buried alive" but it was "fantastic" to be free.
And he described how he had been unable to see the sun for three months, and had once been chained for 24 hours.
Rallies worldwide had called for Mr Johnston's release. An online petition was signed by some 200,000 people.
Mr Johnston's father Graham said he and his wife were "overjoyed" at their son's release.
"It's been 114 days of a living nightmare," he said.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown also expressed his joy at Mr Johnston's release.
The BBC reporter was handed over to officials of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
He later appeared beside Hamas leader Ismail Haniya and thanked everyone who had worked for his release
. He is now at the British Consulate in Jerusalem but is not expected to fly home on Wednesday.
Hamas gunmen overran Gaza last month, expelling their rivals from the Fatah faction and prompting its leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to sack Mr Haniya as prime minister.
Mr Haniya said the result "confirms [Hamas] is serious in imposing security and stability and maintaining law and order in this very dear part of our homeland".'Dreamt of freedom'
At the news conference, Mr Johnston thanked everyone who had worked towards his release.He described his experience of captivity as "appalling" and "occasionally quite terrifying"
"It became quite hard to imagine normal life again," he said.
"The last 16 weeks have been the very worst of my life," he added. "I was in the hands of people who were dangerous and unpredictable."
"I literally dreamt many times of being free and always woke up back in that room."
Mr Johnston said he was not tortured during captivity but he did fall ill from the food he was served.
He added that he had been kept in four different locations, two of them only briefly.
He was able to see the sun in the first month but was then kept in a shuttered room until a week before his release, he said.
He was kept in chains for 24 hours but was not harmed physically until the last half hour of his captivity, when his captors hit him "a bit".
Mr Johnston said Hamas's seizure of power in Gaza and its subsequent pledge to improve security in the territory had facilitated his release.
"The kidnappers seemed very comfortable and very secure in their operation until... a few weeks ago, when Hamas took charge of the security operation here," he said.
He said that he was told he was going home on Tuesday night.
"I thought at first 'They are moving me again', and I thought maybe they're handing me on to new kidnappers but then as we got deeper and deeper into Gaza City, I really began at last to believe that maybe we were finishing it," he said.Radio contact
Mr Johnston was abducted on 12 March by the Army of Islam, a shadowy militant group dominated by Gaza's powerful Dugmush clan.
Just over a month after his capture, it was announced that he had been killed to send a "message" to the Palestinian authorities.
The group released three videos, two of which featured footage of the kidnapped correspondent.
It said it would kill its captive if its demands for the release of Muslim prisoners in British custody were not met.
But Mr Johnston said his abductors had also offered him freedom in exchange for making one of the videos, admitting that some of the things he had been forced to say were factually incorrect.
Having worked in Gaza for the past three years, Mr Johnston said he was well aware of Palestinian traditions of hospitality and regarded his abductors as an "aberration".
He said he was looking forward to being re-united with his family in Scotland, expressing sorrow that his "actions" had brought turmoil to their lives.
He had a brief conversation with his father over the telephone after being released.
Mr Johnston said he stayed aware of efforts to free him by listening to the BBC World Service on the radio.
News of global demonstrations in his support was a source of comfort to him, he said.
"There were demonstrations from Beijing to Buenos Aires, Beirut to London to Washington and you know I could feel how much the Palestinian people were feeling that this wasn't right and how much support there was for an end to my captivity," he said.
The BBC has issued a statement expressing relief and delight at its employee's release.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/07/04 07:07:48 GMT
© BBC MMVII