In Depth

Alan Henning: from Salford taxi driver to Islamic State hostage

Jihadists threaten to behead a second British aid worker, who travelled to Syria to help refugees

The second British hostage threatened with death by Islamic State militants has been named as Alan Henning, a taxi driver from Salford, Greater Manchester. The 47-year-old was seen at the end of a video showing the murder of British aid worker David Haines. The video, which showed both men on their knees in orange jumpsuits in front of a masked jihadist with a British accent, follows the executions of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. So how did Henning go from being a taxi driver in Salford to an Islamic State hostage?

Why did Henning go to Syria?

Henning, a 47-year-old married father-of-two, left his job as a taxi driver last December to deliver supplies to refugees left homeless by the Syrian civil war. He had previously helped on at least two informal convoys, taking humanitarian aid from the UK to Turkey and then across the border to Syria. Catrin Nye, from the BBC's Asian Network, who met Henning in the UK, said he was initially inspired to travel on a convoy to Syria after seeing his friends return from a similar trip. He described his first visit to a refugee camp, where he met displaced Syrian children (pictured above), as a "life-changing experience". When he came back to the UK he found it quite difficult not to want to go back again, said Nye.

When was he kidnapped?

Henning apparently travelled to Syria with a small informal aid group called Aid 4 Syria, alongside the UK Arab Society, last Christmas. He is believed to have been kidnapped on 20 December after crossing the border in a convoy of vehicles. Middle East journalist Tam Hussein, who investigated Henning's disappearance earlier this year, told the New York Daily News that Henning was warned not to go into Syria but insisted he wanted to make sure the aid reached the refugees as intended. "Henning was genuinely trying to help the Syrian refugee crisis – nothing more," said Hussein. "People spoke very highly of him." Mohamed Elhaddad, company director of the UK Arabic Society and a friend of Henning, said the situation was "extremely sad" and suggested that he "took that extra risk" by going "too far into Syria".

What is Henning like?

One fellow volunteer, Kasim Jameel, told the Bolton News that Henning is "an amazing guy" who loved the cause so much that he got a tattoo on his arm saying "Aid 4 Syria". Jameel added: "The cause had literally changed his life around – it meant that much to him." The BBC's Catrin Nye described him as a "very likeable man, funny, very kind and friendly". Everyone knew him as "Gadget", she said, because of his technical skills and fondness for gadgets. Friends told The Guardian he is "a big man with a big heart".

Where is Henning now?

He is believed to have been kidnapped when Islamic State overran the town of Ad Dana, close to the Turkish border. But a Syrian activist who spent a night in the same cell as Henning told a Dutch reporter earlier this year that he had later been moved to Raqqa, the Syrian city considered the "capital" of Islamic State's new territory. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is said to be investigating the kidnapping and Henning's whereabouts now.

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