A FRIEND of a British aid volunteer being held hostage by Islamic State (IS) has said UK air strikes on militants could be “detrimental” to attempts to secure his release.
Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar said she still hoped Alan Henning could be freed more than two weeks after he appeared at the end of a video of the murder of fellow Briton and aid worker David Haines.
She spoke out on Saturday as two RAF Tornado GR4 fighter bombers returned to their base at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus at the end of a seven-hour mission with their weapons payload intact, following parliament’s decision to sanction air strikes in Iraq.
Dr Islam-Zulfiqar, who is studying for a master’s degree in humanitarian and conflict response, had travelled with Mr Henning on several aid convoys to Syria, including the one in December when he was captured.She said: “Any air strike with UK backing is going to have a detrimental effect on the negotiations that have been going on to try and have Alan released.”
“If you go by the pattern we have seen over the last four weeks – it doesn’t leave you very optimistic, but we still have to remain hopeful.
“To give up hope completely, when we don’t know, is not going to help us or the family to cope with it. It’s a very difficult situation.”
The inevitable civilian casualties from air strikes would, she warned, have a “devastating effect on the ground to people who are already suffering”.
She said that Mr Henning, 47, a father of two from Salford, is “a remarkable, unique human being”.
“He gave up the comfort of his home and travelled thousands of miles to a different land, a different region, a different culture, a different place because he saw past all these things and humanity came first for him,” she said.
“To harm any innocent civilian is completely against the tenets of Islam, but somebody who came [to Syria] for purely humanitarian reasons – it would be a huge miscarriage of justice for [IS] to harm him or kill him.”
IS released a video with another British hostage last week, photojournalist John Cantlie. He was seized by IS in November 2012 when he went to Syria to meet fighters who were said to have helped secure his release after he was captured there in July of that year.
Experts suggested the prospects for the British hostages were bleak following the decision to send in UK warplanes.
Middle East expert Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at Chatham House, said it was clear that the militants were keen to portray themselves as cruel and heartless to the West.
“[The holding of hostages] is certainly something that will be used, and the fact [Henning] has been on TV almost constantly in the last week puts him on the front line,” he said.
“We are dealing with a propaganda machine. All the communications we are receiving about Isis are to make it [appear] absolutely evil, an unspeakable monster that we have to attack.”
Asked why IS was beheading Westerners when it must know this was likely to provoke the West to attack, Michael Scheuer, who was formerly head of a CIA unit tracking Osama bin Laden, said: “They want us to come over there – so they can beat us again.
“If they can get an American field army on the ground, they have found twice now, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that they can defeat it.”