UK hostage: Taxi driver who just wanted to help

2014-09-15 20:47

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London - A British hostage being threatened by Islamic State militants is a taxi driver from northern England who volunteered to drive a humanitarian aid convoy to Syria for a Muslim charity.

Alan Henning, a 47-year-old father of two teenage children, was shown in the same video released on Saturday that documented the gruesome murder of fellow Briton David Haines.

He was kidnapped in December as he was driving with an unofficial aid convoy to a camp for internally displaced people in Syria.

Henning's family live in Eccles near Manchester. Nicknamed "Gadget" for his love for new technology, he was not a professional aid worker but friends and colleagues said he was touched by the suffering of Syria's civilian population.

He joined a group of Muslim friends who founded the charity "Aid4Syria" and had the name tattooed on his arm, said Catrin Nye from the BBC Asian Network, who met him before his trip.

She described him as a "very likeable" and "funny" man and said he had been "inspired" by friends who had been to Syria.

"Alan is a man who is full of compassion," said Kasim Jameel, a friend and fellow taxi driver from the Manchester area, who also helped organise the convoys, The Times newspaper reported.

The Times and the Daily Telegraph said he was kidnapped on his trips to the war-torn country, although other media said it may only have been the second time he had travelled there.

Jameel said Henning had insisted on taking part in the convoy instead of spending the New Year's holidays with his family.

"I could tell a lot of stories about the good that Alan has done and about how, as a non-Muslim, he has helped Muslims who have suffered in the conflict," he said.

Henning also took an active role in helping to raise the funds to buy the medical equipment and food aid he was bringing over.

'Just wanted to help'

The convoy left Britain on 20 December and they were stopped shortly after crossing over from Turkey, the reports said.

"They put everyone in a room and started to question people. They were speaking English because no one on the convoy spoke Arabic," a friend told The Times on condition of anonymity.

"They were a mixture of Libyans and Algerians and they gave Alan a hard time because he was not a Muslim," he said.

Other men who had been travelling with Henning were released.

Several British papers said he was then taken to Raqqa in northern Syria which Islamic State claims as its capital.

"He just wanted to help. That's it," Martin Shedwick, the owner of Sprint Motors, which helped to service the old ambulances used in the humanitarian convoy, said on Sky News.

The Daily Express quoted Mohamed Elhaddad as the convoy leader.

Elhaddad said Henning had insisted on taking that "extra risk" to go into Syria.

"I remember going on two convoys with him, at the end of 2012 and in May 2013, and he was always very positive and very interested in the work," he was quoted as saying.

"I have met his family and his children. The first time we went together he was very excited and very emotional. He does a lot for others.

"He is good at DIY and he was a useful person to have on the trips."

Nye said she met Henning while he was packing aid convoys in Salford.

"He had travelled on a convoy, he had been into a refugee camp and it had been a life-changing experience," he said.

"He described holding the children... and how that really affected him. He told me he had to go back."

Read more on:    isis  |  syria

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