Alan Henning beheaded: Aid workers family 'numb with grief' over his murder by Isis

But the killing of hostages is 'backfiring' on Isis as the atrocities are condemned by many Muslims, including preachers

The family of the British aid worker Alan Henning spoke yesterday of their grief over the murder of "a decent, caring human being" by the militant group Islamic State (Isis). In a statement, his wife Barbara Henning said she and their two children, Lucy and Adam, were "extremely proud" of him and also of "what he achieved and the people he helped".

The 47-year-old taxi-driver from Greater Manchester was taken hostage last December after travelling with humanitarian aid convoys to Syria. He had made repeated journeys, despite the dangers, after being moved by the plight of refugees in the country's bitter civil war.

His death was confirmed after a video of his murder was released on Friday night. It dashed hopes that he might be freed after appeals by dozens of Muslim leaders in the UK and worldwide, who warned that killing an innocent man on a humanitarian mission would be contrary to Islam's central tenets, and reports that he had been cleared by a sharia court in Syria.

At Manchester Central Mosque, Mr Henning was hailed as a "national hero" by an imam who said his "appalling" murder would help bring about the end of Isis.

The Henning family, from Eccles, Salford, spoke in sorrow of the news "we hoped we would never hear", saying "as a family, we are devastated by the news of his death". They were "numb with grief", and added: "Alan was a decent, caring human being. His interest was in the welfare of others. He will be remembered for this and we as a family are extremely proud of him and what he achieved and the people he helped."

They praised the Government and Greater Manchester Police for their support and thanked those who had campaigned and prayed for Mr Henning's safe return. "We take comfort in knowing how many people stood beside us in hoping for the best," Mrs Henning said.

Other family and friends also paid tribute. His nephew, Stuart Henning, said: "RIP Uncle Alan, you are and will always be my hero, love you." Family friend Michelle Donaldson, who said she hated the "cruel, cruel world", wrote: "RIP Alan, so devastated, thinking of my best friends and family so much."

The victim's brother-in-law, Colin Livesey told the BBC yesterday that the aid worker was a "kind, gentle man". Mr Livesey criticised the Government, saying "they could have done more when they knew about it months and months ago".

The English-accented Isis fighter who killed Mr Henning is also thought to have murdered David Haines, an aid worker from Perth in Scotland, and two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff. US officials say they believe Western security services have identified the man, although this has not been made public.

Imam Muhammed Asim Hussain, right, hailed Alan Henning as a "national hero" (AFP)

On his final convoy in December, Mr Henning was the only non-Muslim to enter Syria after insisting that he wanted to see through to the end the mission to deliver aid and ambulances to a hospital. Filmed shortly before crossing into Syria and being abducted, a number of colleagues cheer him as he says: "It's all worthwhile when you see what is needed actually get where it needs to go … no sacrifice we do is [anything] compared to what they are going through every day on a daily basis."

Fellow aid worker Dr Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar said she and other members of the convoy had hoped his captors would "hear the voice of reason". "Clearly they have shown they are incapable of this," she said. "These murderous people have proved outright they are not Muslim, hold absolutely no Islamic values and clearly could not demonstrate any mercy towards an innocent, selfless man. We pray justice will be swift for those fanatics.

Ghaffar Hussein, of the anti-extremist think-tank Quilliam, said the murder was "backfiring" on Isis because so many Muslims, including some Islamist preachers, had condemned it. "It's put them on the defensive. I've seen a lot of the [pro-Isis] Twitter accounts becoming very abusive towards other Muslims," he said. "It's a sign of frustration they will resort to that kind of name-calling, rather than argument."

Speaking at Manchester Central Mosque yesterday, Imam Muhammed Asim Hussain made clear his admiration of Mr Henning and disgust for his killers. "We mourn the loss of Alan Henning. He was a national hero; we will remember him as a tireless and selfless humanitarian aid worker whose only concern was to help people in need," he said. His killing was a "cowardly and criminal act of appalling brutality" by a group who are "an insult to the Islamic faith". He ended: "We now call for justice to be carried out on the killers of Alan Henning."

Fellow Salford taxi driver Mike Hyde said yesterday: "I am just heartbroken – I can't speak, really. He was just doing his best, you know? He was just a nice ordinary man, making a living like all of us. He just wanted to make a difference."

'A decent, caring human being'

The Henning family issued the following statement yesterday.

Alan, my husband, and father of Lucy and Adam, was kidnapped in Syria in December last year. Last night we received news of his murder by Isis. It is the news we hoped we would never hear. As a family we are devastated by the news of his death. There are few words to describe how we feel at this moment. Myself, Lucy and Adam, and all of Alan's family and friends are numb with grief.

During this ordeal we have relied heavily on the support of many people. That support from the Government, Foreign Office and Greater Manchester Police has been there from the start and has meant that we were able to get through the most awful of times. We always knew that Alan was in the most dangerous of situations but we hoped he would return home to us. That is not to be.

On behalf of the entire family, I want to thank everyone who campaigned for Alan's release, who held vigils to pray for his safe return, and who condemned those who took him. Your efforts were a great support to us, and we take comfort in knowing how many people stood beside us in hoping for the best.

Alan was a decent, caring human being. His interest was in the welfare of others. He will be remembered for this, and we as a family are extremely proud of him and what he achieved and the people he helped.