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INTERNATIONAL: Arrest may prove vital in kidnap saga.

Hamas has arrested the spokesman of a Mideast group holding BBC reporter Alan Johnston, a move that could give it a bargaining chip to secure the Briton's release.

Hamas has demanded that the Army of Islam, led by a violent Gaza clan, free Mr Johnston, aged 45, from Argyllshire, who was kidnapped on a Gaza City street on March 12.

But the group, whose formerly close relations with Hamas have soured, has demanded that Britain first release a radical Islamic cleric with ties to al Qaida.

It has vowed to kill Mr Johnston if Hamas tried to free him by force.

The Army of Islam threatened to release what it said were damaging documents about Hamas if its spokesman, Abu Khatab al-Maqdisi, was not freed. It also kidnapped 10 members of Hamas, the Islamic group whose violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last month has not empowered it enough to secure Mr Johnston's release.

Al-Maqdisi was arrested while trying to fire on members of a Hamas-allied security force, said Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official. The Army of Islam said in a statement that its spokesman was leaving early morning prayers.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 3, 2007
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