Alan Henning profile: A father travelling on a 'worthwhile' aid mission to Syria to help refugees

"Heart of gold" taxi driver, Mr Henning, from Salford, has been held by Isis captors since December 2013

Natasha Culzac
Sunday 21 September 2014 08:37
Alan Henning, who is being held by Isis, had his life threatened in the video in which the group beheaded another Briton, David Haines
Alan Henning, who is being held by Isis, had his life threatened in the video in which the group beheaded another Briton, David Haines

So moved was he by the plight of Syrian civilians displaced and ravaged by the country’s civil war that he travelled to the Middle East to help them directly.

Alan Henning has been held by jihadists from the Islamic State (Isis) since December, seized while travelling as part of an aid convoy near the Syrian-Turkish border.

The 47-year-old, who is a father-of-two, originally comes from Salford, Greater Manchester, and he left his family in 2013 to travel to the stricken region to help deliver supplies to Muslim refugees – he had also visited previously.

He reportedly went with eight other volunteers from Bolton, all of whom joined a convoy of 20 vehicles, according to The Bolton News, and was transporting medical equipment to Al-Dana – a few miles from Turkey’s border – when he was seized on Boxing Day.

BBC journalist Catrin Nye met Mr Henning in Salford as he prepared for his trip creating aid packages, describing him as “very likeable” and “funny”.

Alan Henning prior to his capture

“He had travelled on a convoy, he had been into a refugee camp … and it had been a life-changing experience,” she said. “He had handed out the goods. He described holding the children … and how that really affected him. He told me he had to go back.”

His abduction and identity was only made public on 13 September, after he was shown on released Isis video footage being threatened with death if Prime Minister David Cameron did not drop a Western-led campaign to extinguish the militant group.

“The first time we went together he was very excited and very emotional. He does a lot for others,” Mohamed Elhaddad, Director of the UK Arabic Society, said, after he travelled with Mr Henning on two prior missions.

He added: “Alan went too far into Syria. He took that extra risk, because he could have accomplished the drop-off at the border. I disagree completely with what is happening to him. Alan is my friend, this is extremely sad for him and his family.”

An image grab taken from a video released by the Islamic State (Isis) showing s a masked militant threatening to execute British hostage Alan Henning

Another person who went on the convoy that Mr Henning was captured on told The Bolton News that the fighters took the taxi driver because they thought he might be a spy.

Yasir Amir, who left the mission just as it reached the border, said some of the volunteers stayed in Syria trying to rescue Mr Henning for two weeks.

“They were at this compound about half an hour after going through the border and then these masked men stopped them, and started asking questions and looking at passports,” Mr Amir, from Bolton, said.

“They were questioning everybody but when they got to Alan they took him as they thought he was a spy.

“He had a new passport with a chip in it as his passport was new and they were suspicious because of that.

“He is not a spy, he has not gone to harm you but to help people in need. Please let him come back to his family.”

Mr Henning’s capture left his community in “complete shock”, a neighbour told Sky News last week.

Tracy Morrison said he is a “typical family man that would do anything for his children and wife”, while friend Martin Shedwick said: “He's just a taxi driver with a heart of gold who basically wanted to help people”.

Mr Henning was filmed prior to his capture describing the aid trip as being “worthwhile”. He said: “No sacrifice we do is nothing compared to what they are going through every day.”

His detainment has been criticised by vast swathes of the Muslim community, including from extremist group al-Qaeda who reportedly tried to plead with Isis to release the hostage, arguing that the move was “wrong under Islamic law” and “counter-productive”.

An open letter from over 100 Imams and eminent Muslim scholars across the UK was published in The Independent on 17 September, calling for the release of Mr Henning and described the act as a “senseless kidnapping”.

In addition, a video of three Imams pleading with Isis to release Mr Henning unharmed was uploaded yesterday to YouTube.

In it, Ustadh Abu Eesa, Director of Prophetic Guidance in Manchester said: “I launched a public campaign called The Levantine Prophecy, in order to raise awareness of and help the people of Syria.

“Many Muslims sat idly by, but a number of non-Muslim journalists and aid workers responded to that call – and Alan Henning was one of those people.

“Alan left his wife and his children and joined a local Muslim charity convoy in order to get aid to the most desperate. He did so because he passionately believes in helping the most needy. I personally vouch for Alan Henning.”

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