A sick British hostage and torture by Taser

Published by The Mail on Sunday (7th September, 2014)

The British aid worker threatened with beheading by Islamic militants in Syria has been so desperately ill that his captors have been forced to summon a doctor to treat him.

Father-of-two David Haines has been struggling to hold down food and suffering from acute gastric and other health problems in his cramped captivity.

The revelation will add to the anguish of his desperate family after Islamic State fanatics named him as the next hostage to be murdered.

‘He cannot digest food and has serious digestive problems,’ said one well-connected source. ‘Haines has suffered a good deal from vomiting, diarrhoea and gastro-intestinal problems. A doctor on at least once occasion was brought in for him because he was so very sick.’

A special investigation by The Mail on Sunday can also reveal:

  •  The aid worker has been severely tortured and given electric shock ‘punishments’ with Tasers by the group of British jihadis led by ‘Jihadi John’ and nicknamed The Beatles.
  •  He had been employed by his French charity for just ten days when seized in northern Syrian within sight of the Turkish border.
  •  A Turkish reporter kidnapped by IS says he was guarded by a white, English-speaking convert, almost certainly from Britain.
  •  Britain has paid £500,000 to a secret security agency to bring war crimes charges against IS leaders.

The disclosure that Haines, 44, has been suffering physical difficulties alongside inevitable mental turmoil must have added to the distress of his wife Dragana, who lives in Croatia with their four-year-old daughter, and family in Scotland during their agonising wait for news.

A security source familiar with the cases described the hostages’ internment as a ‘living hell’.

Mr Haines, originally from Perth in Scotland, has been badly tortured, especially during the first six months after his abduction in March last year at a refugee camp in northern Syria.

He may have been singled out for such brutal treatment because of his nationality. One freed hostage said guards talked often about the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

IS videos show British and US captives dressed in orange jumpsuits, a clear reference to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The most recent video showed a gaunt Haines held by the collar as a black-clad, English extremist warned Britain to abandon ‘this evil alliance of America’.

Mr Haines has been given electric shocks with Tasers as ‘punishments’ by a group that included at least one of ‘The Beatles’, the British jihadis linked to the kidnap and killing of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Like other hostages, the Briton has been moved repeatedly because of chaotic infighting among Syrian rebels and possibly to evade raids from special forces. At one point he was held with Foley and Sotloff and some of the 15 Europeans who have been released after ransoms were paid.

Mr Haines was working for French aid group Acted (Agency for Technical Co-operation and Development) when he was grabbed within sight of the Turkish border. It is understood he had time to notify his superiors but could not escape.

He had worked for aid agencies in South Sudan, Libya, and the former Yugoslavia. Adrien Tomarchio, spokesman for Acted, said he was hired for his experience working in war zones: ‘He had only been employed by us for ten days when he went missing. David went to Syria to help Syrians, to help the vulnerable.’

He was kidnapped by an Islamist gang with Federico Motka, an Italian-Swiss aid worker freed four months ago after a ransom was paid.

A Syrian intermediary said $4 million (£2.5 million) was handed over by Italian officials after lengthy negotiations involving intelligence agencies. The country’s foreign minister admitted there had been ‘complex and delicate’ work to get Motka freed.

Exactly the same sum was paid by the Italian authorities last September to free a journalist held by a rogue brigade of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Rome is working to secure the release of two young female aid workers, thought to have been abducted by a criminal gang, with officials currently on the Turkish border.

According to a security source, £31.7 million has been paid over the past 12 months by Western governments, families and insurers to free aid workers and reporters.

David Cameron rounded on fellow world leaders at the Nato summit last week, urging them not to given in to ransom demands. ‘It is utterly self-defeating,’ he said.

But a friend of Dragana Haines yesterday criticised the British authorities for refusing to pay ransoms: ‘If he was from Italy or France they would pay and he would be back with his beautiful wife and their child. The UK and America won’t pay ransoms so they are letting an innocent man die.’

In a separate case, a Turkish journalist has revealed one of his captors was a young white English-speaker, almost certainly from Britain.

Although there are thought to be some 500 militants from this country in Syria and Iraq, those known about have been almost exclusively from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The brown-eyed militant was aged about 24, of slight build, 5ft 6in tall and growing a wispy beard.

He was guarding Bunyamin Aygun, a photojournalist seized last November while investigating massacres in Syria.Aygun said the English-speaking jihadi demanded his computer and social media passwords and ‘kept asking if I was working for the CIA or Mossad’.

He could not be completely certain the man was British, ‘but it was definitely not American-English,’ he said , adding that, unusually, this guard never spoke in Arabic. Others spoke sometimes in broken English.

Aygun, captured for 40 days before being freed by a rival militia working with Turkish intelligence agency MIT, is the first foreign journalist to speak openly about being held hostage by IS fanatics. He endured endless interrogations and was sentenced to death at one point. ‘It was the worst feeling of despair you can have to know you are going to your death,’ he said.

He was moved every four days, usually in the boot of a car, and held hooded and handcuffed in basements, houses and ‘a metal enclosure’. Militants in black balaclavas bombarded him with questions, asking him if he was spy, making him pray five times a day and mocking him because his name reminded them of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Aygun was seized with a commander of the FSA in the town of Salkin by IS fighters. In his first prison, a fellow Syrian hostage warned him: ‘Tell them the truth. You’re not even worth the value of a chicken to them.’

His worst moment came three days later when four fighters gave him a copy of the Koran and warned he had been sentenced to death. ‘You Turks are pro-Israel, not proper Muslims, so we are going to execute you,’ they said. The man who told him was a Turk who had spent ten years fighting with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

‘I was paralysed with fear,’ Aygun said. ‘I needed to find a way to be shot rather than beheaded.’

He was forced to wait two days for his death, the lowest point in his ordeal. But on the day his execution was due, none of his captors turned up . They finally arrived bearing the body of the Turkish fighter, who had been shot in battle.

The militants – who included Turks from Germany – asked him if he wanted to smell his fellow Turk’s blood. ‘The blood of martyrs smells good,’ they said. After 17 days in captivity his kidnappers decided Aygun was telling the truth and stopped the barrage of questions. For his final few days he was held with some Syrians.

He said this move was influenced by stories in the Turkish media, which confirmed he was a journalist and not a spy. ‘They follow reports on the internet very closely.’

As a result he believes media ‘blackouts’ – as requested by the British Government – can backfire, while pointing out they also relieve pressure on officials to save those being held.

The Foreign Office has revealed Britain has paid £500,000 to a security agency based in a secret European location to bring war crimes charges against leaders of IS using information smuggled out of the organisation.

A spokesman told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The United Kingdom has a long-standing commitment to ensuring that those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria are held to account. As part of that we are funding the investigation of atrocities carried out by Isil.’

Meanwhile, family and friends of Mr Haines are rallying around his 17-year-old daughter Bethany, comforting her with long walks in the Perthshire countryside near where she lives with Haines’s first wife in Scone. One close family friend said: ‘It’s been very difficult for them. ‘They are a very close family – that is how they are getting through this.’

Bethany referred to the terrifying situation facing her father with a series of heartbreaking messages on social media.

She described him as ‘my hero’ and said she would do anything to have him ‘home for good’.

*This article was jointly written with James Harkin

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