IN the immediate aftermath of the release of the BBC reporter Alan Johnston from 114 days in captivity in Gaza many conflicting accounts of the events that led to his release have been reported. In addition the very public way in which support for Mr Johnston's release was organised has been contrasted with the secrecy that has surrounded the case of five British men kidnapped in Baghdad at the end of May about whose fate almost nothing is publicly known. Alan Johnston spoke about their plight soon after his own release.

The cases seem very different. Gaza, despite its lawlessness, is not Iraq. Mr Johnston had a high profile through his reporting for the BBC and was well-regarded by many Palestinian journalists, whereas the five men in Iraq were apparently working quietly as contract security guards. The BBC and the Foreign Office jointly decided that frequent publicity about Alan Johnston would help to bring about his release but in respect of the Baghdad Five the guidance from the Foreign Office has been that publicity would be unhelpful and even damaging to their prospects for release.

As a result virtually nothing is known about these men, in three cases not even their names. The Foreign Office is in the best position to determine tactics in situations of this kind but their families, looking at the scenes of Mr Johnston's release, will not have been able to resist wondering whether a different approach might work better for them.


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