The family of a British doctor who died while being held in custody in Syria has paid a moving tribute to him at his funeral yesterday, describing him as “our star”.
Dr Abbas Khan was on the verge of being released when his family was told of his death. The Syrian regime claimed he took his own life but his family claim he was murdered.
The 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon from London was captured in November last year in the ancient city of Aleppo after travelling from Turkey to help victims of hospital bombings. His death was announced on 17 December.
At a packed funeral prayer service at Regent’s Park mosque in London yesterday, his brother Shahnawaz Khan said: “Last night I sat down to undertake the morbid task of writing a eulogy for my brother.
“My brother, to us, was our star. His star shone on our family.”
Dr Khan was described by his brother as the “kindest and simplest man I’ve ever met”.
Mr Khan spoke of “the evil that has taken him from us so cruelly” and said the family had been through “one of the most difficult times we have ever seen”. Dr Khan’s brother recalled his childhood play-fighting and sleeping beside him.
“Now seeing all of you, and remembering those days, I feel I was truly blessed,” he said.
Before Mr Khan spoke about his brother, an imam said the doctor “gave his life as a sacrifice”.
He said Dr Khan went to Syria “with the pure intention to save lives”.
The doctor’s mother, Fatima, has dismissed a claim by Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, that her son took his own life.
Earlier this month, the family revealed a letter in which the doctor expressed his optimism about being released and his hopes of being home in time for Christmas.
Dr Abbas leaves behind wife Hanna, 30, son Abdullah, six, and daughter, Rurayya, seven.
An inquest into his death will open today at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court.
Speaking outside the mosque before the prayers, family solicitor Nabeel Sheikh said: “The family would like to express their sincere gratitude at the level of support they’ve received this morning.
“There is a very, very large turnout and I think that is testament to the significance of this case and the emotions that are running high at the moment.
“It is a very tragic set of circumstances under which Dr Abbas Khan passed away. Obviously, we know tomorrow the inquest will be formally opened and then the process will start of collating evidence for the coroner to finally reach a judgment when the inquest concludes.
“For today’s purposes, the family is very, very grateful for the level of support they’ve received from the British public so far and the priority for them is obviously to lay the body to rest so they can have some form of closure, albeit the process of the inquest will start tomorrow and will conclude in due course after which we will consider what legal avenues are open to us to conclude this matter, and hopefully find some form of justice if that exists in this case.”
He said the idea of suicide was “inconceivable”.
When Mr Sheikh was asked if he thought the British government had done enough to help, he said: “I think the family would think they haven’t done enough; there has been no real contact with them whatsoever.
“On numerous occasions they have tried to seek a meeting with [Foreign Secretary] William Hague but to no avail.
“The only thing they have really received is a letter from the Prime Minister post the tragic event occurring.”