The BBC's Alan Johnston tells the Globe and Mail's Sarah Hampson he heard a report that he'd been killed.
Johnston, of course, survived 114 days in captivity with a militant Palestinian Muslim group in the Gaza Strip, finally being freed on July 4, 2007.
“The worst moment was when I heard on the radio that they had executed me. That's an extraordinary thing to hear in that situation,” he says. “I feared that the statement was just ahead of the act.”
He stayed up all night, anticipating the sound of the footsteps of his approaching assassin. “You're looking at the possibility of your own violent death,” he says softly.
The night passed without incident. When the call to prayer signalled the dawn, he felt sure there would be no killing at that point, and he fell asleep. With a rueful smile, he adds that he should admit feeling some pleasure in being able to quote – if only to himself in the confines of his cell – the famous Mark Twain line that “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
A balding, pale man with clear blue eyes, Mr. Johnston tells his story in a hushed voice, dispassionately, like the veteran journalist he is. He is calm, reporting from the centre of his own horror for his avid listeners, as if in the middle of a war zone.
He passed 114 days as a hostage analyzing himself and his life. “I did go right through my life and my personality,” he says. “I used to think I was doing a psychological job on myself that you would pay a lot for in Manhattan,” he continues without a change in his serious voice.
Mr. Johnston was released under mounting international pressure and, in particular, through the intervention of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that had recently won power in the Palestinian Authority's general legislative election.
He now works at a desk job for the BBC in London. “One of the things I learned in that room was how much I rather like the West. I had spent most of my life to get away to more intense places. I did actually realize that home is better than I quite realized.”