David Haines, a British security expert who was kidnapped 19 months ago in Syria, was taken by “professional” gunmen seeking ransom money, just before he crossed the border into Turkey, a news report said Thursday, citing an eyewitness. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking at a NATO summit in Wales, condemned other nations for giving into terrorist groups' ransom demands in return for the freedom of their citizens.
Haines, 44, is being held captive by the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, which has executed two American journalists -- James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- in the past few weeks. The Sunni extremist group, which had kept Haines' abduction secret until recently, has threatened to kill him next if the U.S. does not stop the airstrikes, which have forced the group to lose control of areas in northern Iraq.
A Syrian translator working with Haines reportedly told The Independent about the kidnapping incident in March last year when Islamic State fighters chased a car that foreign aid workers were travelling in and kidnapped the Briton and an Italian in northern Syria, the Independent reported.
“Two very fast cars came up behind – one overtook and the other stayed behind. They shouted at us to get out of the car in formal Arabic. They were wearing black masks and were so professional," the translator told the Independent.
“They knew that two of us were Syrians and they knew who else was in the car. One of them put a gun to my head and threatened me not to tell anyone what I had seen. They put [Haines and Motka] in the boot of their car and shot out the tyres of our car,” the translator reportedly said, adding that the kidnapping was over in “seconds.”
Working for the Paris-based Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development, or ACTED, Haines, a long-time aid worker was reportedly in Syria on a three-day tour to select locations for new refugee camps in the war-torn north of the country when he was taken by the militants. The organization’s Italian coordinator Federico Motka too was kidnapped, along with Haines, his Syrian translator reportedly said. Motka was subsequently released when the Italian government paid $7.75 million to the militants for his release.
Italian media reported that Motka, who shared a cell with Haines along with five other foreign hostages, was freed in May after Rome authorized the ransom payment to the Islamic State. Germany, France and Spain too have reportedly paid ransoms to the militant group to secure the release of their citizens.
However, Cameron reiterated his country’s stance that Britain will not pay to secure Haines’ release and went on to condemn countries that have paid millions of dollars in ransom money to the Sunni militant group.
“Countries that have allowed ransoms to be paid, that has ended up with terrorist groups, including this terrorist group, having tens of millions of dollars that they can spend on kidnapping other hostages, on preparing terrorist plots," Cameron reportedly said at the NATO conference in Wales.
The Syrian translator reportedly praised Haines for his charitable work in helping displaced people in Syria, which has been at war since 2011. Haines has a 4-year-old daughter from his second marriage to a Croatian woman and a teenage daughter in the U.S. from his first marriage, according to reports.
Nena Skoric, Haines’ former landlady in Croatia, reportedly said: “It didn't matter to him whether people were Croats, Serbs or Muslims, as long as they needed help. He was such a good man. I don't know what is wrong with the kidnappers. Don't they know he was helping Muslims? They don't seem to care about that.”