The ISIS Hostage (2016)
The dining table in the living room in Hedegård was littered with small notes with names, phone numbers and email addresses of people in Daniel’s and the family’s networks. Kjeld and Susanne noted down all the contacts that they could possibly think of.
Anita sat at the computer, editing the draft of a letter that Arthur had sent her. She had experience from her job with seeking funding for environmental projects and, even though this was something quite different, she knew a lot about raising money.
The letter was to be sent to wider, but still controlled, circles of people they knew and trusted, for example, via the Listserv at Vesterlund School and the gymnastics clubs. It was crucial that the wording struck the right tone and that she didn’t reveal too much, and she hoped that those who knew Daniel would be willing to help.
‘This request is about a human life in danger,’ began the letter.
After this, there was information about why Daniel had travelled to Syria and why the case was very sensitive:
The papers you are holding are marked ‘confidential’, which doesn’t restrict you in a legal sense, but we hope that you will treat this request confidentially as, in a worst-case scenario, it could cost Daniel his life if the information is made public.
If recipients wished to offer their support, they should go through the family’s lawyer, Oluf Engell, from the law firm Bruun & Hjejle, which was helping to manage the account where donors could anonymously deposit an amount.
There is a professional and competent team behind this fundraising and everything is being done properly and in accordance with all laws and regulations. The money goes into a trust account that only the lawyer can manage. We as a family and the public will never know who has contributed to the cause.
According to the Danish Penal Code, section 114b, it is an offence to give, collect or otherwise disseminate money to terrorist organizations. This law was passed in order to prevent people in Denmark from helping to finance terrorism. Denmark hadn’t yet put ISIS on its list of terrorist organizations, even though judicially it would take only a couple of videos of some of ISIS’s crimes to prove the claim.
But neither in the law nor the extensive background material of the Act was there any reference to whether the law applied to paying ransoms for hostages held by terrorist organizations. Since no Danish court had yet dealt with such a case and thereby settled the question, it was unclear whether it was legal or illegal. A ransom payment still ends up in the terrorists’ pockets. At the same time, it could be argued that the aim of collecting money for a ransom was not to finance terrorism, but to save a human life.
Because the family’s fundraising was operating in a legal grey area, it was carried out under the supervision of the relevant Danish authorities to ensure that neither the contributors nor the family would be prosecuted for giving money to terrorists.
Even though ISIS would receive the ransom, for Anita and the rest of the family it was purely a matter of getting Daniel home alive. Anita’s boyfriend had been a soldier and he thought that paying a ransom to ISIS was highly problematic, but they had no choice if they wanted to get Daniel released. Anita was aware of the dilemma when she asked people for a contribution and could easily understand if they didn’t want to donate.
The motto for the fundraising was ‘many small streams make a big river’. In addition to people from associations and schools in the gymnastics world who knew Daniel, the letter was sent to friends and acquaintances in the local community. The whole family helped. Daniel’s paternal grandmother wrote the account number on the bulletin board where she went to choir and told her friends about the situation, while Daniel’s maternal grandfather collected contributions from neighbours and friends in the retirement home where he lived.
Although the family had reached out to only a relatively small number of recipients, they had just sent off the letter when representatives from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) rang the doorbell in Hedegård.
Susanne welcomed the visitors, turned on the coffee machine and asked the PET agents to sit in the living room, so they could talk about the case over a cup of coffee. Anita was in the office receiving constant phone calls. The line to Hedegård was ringing off the hook at the same time as the agents from PET were expressing their concern about the fundraiser. They felt it was almost impossible to ensure that the news of Daniel’s capture wasn’t shared on social media and made public.
In a break between phone calls, Anita recognized that the fundraiser was an experiment and that she couldn’t control whether or not someone might write about Daniel on Facebook.
‘We have a choice between the plague and cholera and we have chosen cholera, because we simply can’t live with the plague,’ explained Anita.
A short time afterwards, the fundraiser was out of their control. The magazine The Gymnast sent out an email about Daniel to everyone who received the magazine’s newsletter. Anita almost had a heart attack. But donations poured in and no one said a word about Daniel on Facebook.
The family now truly believed that it might be feasible to keep Daniel’s case out of the public eye, even though they had told some people. Anita therefore reached out to the athletics BGI Academy and other organizations that would help to spread the word. But as the circle grew, several challenges presented themselves. It turned out that private institutions, associations and schools were not allowed to give money for a ransom, so BGI suggested making copies of Daniel’s photographs of young gymnasts from his trip to Russia, which associations and schools could then buy. In this way, Daniel’s alma mater Vesterlund School and others could contribute indirectly.
The collection was extended to principals, gymnasts, directors, management committees, bridge clubs, Rotary clubs, grandparents, friends and colleagues. During the first twenty-four hours they collected 145,000 kroner (about £15,000) and after two days the amount had reached half a million (£52,000).
Anita got a buzz when receiving updates from the lawyer about how much had been raised, although there was still a long way to go. The family was counting on taking 5 to 6 million kroner (about £521,000 to £ 625,000) to buy Daniel’s freedom.
Arthur didn’t know what to expect from the negotiations. ISIS could be an organization that wasn’t willing to negotiate. He had been involved in more than twenty cases as a security consultant around the world and he had never witnessed a hostage case as spectacular as the one that Daniel and the other hostages were involved in.
The Danish government hadn’t either. The Foreign Policy Committee discussed it behind closed doors on several occasions. Most are, but because Denmark had published the Muhammad cartoons, there was a far more immediate risk that the kidnappers would use a hostage to put pressure on the Danish government. It was therefore important for the government and parliament to keep the Daniel affair completely at arm’s length in terms of negotiations, ransom and everything else.
Kjeld also experienced the extent to which parliament - across parties and behind closed doors - had decided to distance itself from the Daniel affair. In desperation over the growing expenses, Kjeld sent an appeal to, among others, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, the leader of the Danish People’s Party and a prominent MP, who lived in the village of Thyregod, less than six miles away.
‘This is a cry for help,’ began Kjeld’s email. ‘Can it be true that we aren’t entitled to any financial support or assistance? I know only too well that the Danish government will never negotiate with kidnappers, but what about support to pay for the people that are working for us?’
The party leader replied succinctly that he couldn’t do anything to help.
So it was the family’s good fortune to have a daughter like Anita, who had professional experience in fundraising. It was not least thanks to her that, on 14 March 2014, the family could send a new offer to the kidnappers of $512,000 (£350,700), equivalent to more than 3 million kroner.
A week passed with no response from ISIS. On 22 March Susanne and Kjeld re-sent the email with the offer of $512,000 in the hope of getting a reply.
With help from large and small donations, they had now collected a total of about 5 million kroner, and there were several initiatives under way. Among other things, an Easter gala was going to be held in April, organized by several of Daniel’s old gymnastics acquaintances and the editor of The Gymnast magazine. Daniel’s former teammates and many of the country’s most talented gymnasts had agreed to come and perform. All of the profits from the event would be donated to the fund. A text message service was also set up, so that people could easily and quickly contribute 150 kroner (about £15).
At the same time, the family had finally received the letter and the video of Daniel that the Spanish hostage Marc Marginedas had brought with him out of captivity.
In the video, Susanne and Kjeld saw their son sitting shirtless against a white wall. His chest was covered in red marks and he had lost so much weight that his collar bone was sticking out. Maybe it was the way the video had been recorded, but it made him look as if he had shrunk.
Nevertheless, both the letter and the video offered a welcome reassurance that he was alive and that they just had to be persistent with the fundraising, so that he could come home as soon as possible.
The kidnappers were silent. They still hadn’t replied by 7 April, so the family decided to send a new email; this time with an increased offer. For the first time, and at Arthur’s request, they dared to name the amount in euros and offered to buy Daniel’s freedom for €845,000 (£654,100) or just over 6 million kroner.
The reason the kidnappers hadn’t replied was probably because they were busy finishing deals on some of the other hostages. Two more Spaniards, the journalist Javier Espinosa and the photographer Ricardo Vilanova, had been released from ISIS captivity towards the end of March.
· * ·
When Javier and Ricardo were about to be released and to leave the cell, the Beatles did the same thing they had done with Marc’s release. The Spaniards were made to believe that their fellow prisoners were going to be moved.
A truck backed up to the door at the end of the corridor outside the cell. The hostages were divided by nationality and Daniel climbed into the truck first, along with Dan and the Belgian, blindfolded and handcuffed. Then came the French, the Spaniards, the Americans and the British.
Although they knew that the Spaniards had been given proof-of-life questions a couple of days earlier, there was nevertheless a quivering uncertainty over what the Beatles might do next. After ten minutes, the truck stopped. Daniel could hear that a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a diesel engine was idling next to the truck and the British prisoners were asked to jump out.
‘Say goodbye to your friends!’ shouted the Beatles.
Daniel’s heart was pounding in his chest when the rear door slammed shut again and the truck continued on its way. He counted himself lucky to be at the very back of the cargo hold with Dan and the Belgian, who appeared to be valuable to the kidnappers. There was a difference between being a Danish prisoner from the little village of Hedegård and a Danish prisoner sent out by a major French organization.
When the truck stopped again, the Americans were separated from the rest and at the third stop the Spaniards disappeared.
Daniel breathed a sigh of relief when the truck drove back to the Quarry, where the British and the Americans were already waiting for him and the other hostages. The Spaniards were on their way to the border to be released.
It became harder for the hostages to discuss negotiations and ransoms, because there was still nothing happening for the British and the Americans. On the contrary, James got increasingly hard treatment.
‘Do you like being in the army, James … just like your brother?’ asked a Beatle one day.
Daniel sat facing the wall and could hear that they had put James in a stranglehold and he was struggling to breathe. Afterwards, there was a thump on the floor as James fainted and knocked his head against the concrete. When he came to, he had a big black eye. But this time they had crossed a line. Other guards, whom the hostages had never seen before, came into the cell and asked with concern about James’s head. As the hostages didn’t dare to speak ill of the Beatles, they lied and said that James had fallen over. The guards took photographs and disappeared. When the Beatles returned, they laughed at James’s black eye, but Daniel had a sense that they also came to check whether they had gone too far.
They asked James, ‘What did you say to the other guards?’
‘That I had fallen over,’ he replied.
‘Well, you did.’
Negotiations were ongoing for Pierre and the other three Frenchmen. Although it didn’t officially admit it, the French government usually did not hesitate to pay for the release of French hostages, using funds from state-owned companies, which in turn received benefits. According to a survey conducted by the New York Times, from 2008 to 2013 France topped the list of countries that had paid ransoms to groups linked to al-Qaeda. France had paid a total of $58 million (£39 million) in ransoms, while for Spain, the equivalent amount was $5.9 million (£4 million). The United States accused these European governments of financing terrorism and of ensuring that the kidnapping industry remained a lucrative business. At the same time, America’s strict non-negotiation policy left their countrymen and their families in the worst possible situation.
While the European hostages in the Quarry waited for the negotiations to result in their releases, Pierre drew a pencil sketch of Daniel. He took his time sketching on the small piece of cardboard from a Laughing Cow cheese carton.
They had spent more than eight months together and only needed to look at each other to know what the other was thinking. Daniel could be completely himself in Pierre’s company and he loved Pierre’s ability to talk for hours about fish and other subjects that interested him, while at the same time admitting that he had never experienced being drunk.
‘It looks like me,’ said an impressed Daniel when Pierre had finished the sketch. The Frenchman nodded.
‘I’ll see if I can take it out with me.’
Pierre broke a tooth off a plastic comb and pulled a piece of thread out of a random piece of clothing. Then he unstitched a small piece of Velcro on the right sleeve of his jacket. He put the sketch under the Velcro and sewed it back on with the home-made plastic needle. He said he would put on his jacket when he left the prison and that Daniel would get the sketch when he, too, was one day released.
‘Look, Daniel,’ laughed Pierre, holding his right arm. ‘You’re right here.’
· * ·
It was early April and the three women from Médecins Sans Frontières had been freed through negotiations. Daniel and the others hadn’t seen them, but the Beatles had ordered the hostages to be quiet, as if they didn’t want the women and the men to hear each other. Even so, Daniel could hear the women in the corridor when they were being taken from their cell to the toilet.
With the previous three releases, there had been a pattern. First, the hostages were given proof-of-life questions, then there was silence until another question came, and then the final release a few days later.
On the day Pierre and the other Frenchmen received their second question, Pierre couldn’t sleep. He lay awake all night, scratching his long beard. He hated the idea that someone should pay the Islamists so that he could live, and he hated himself for accepting that he was just a white foreigner who could be sold as an object. The activist and the super-idealist within him had surrendered to darker forces, and he was disgusted. Pierre seemed so indignant about the situation that Daniel was worried he would take his own life to avoid being bought.
Everything indicated that Pierre would be released before Daniel. The Beatles had told Daniel that his family had collected only €845,000.
‘They’re still over 1.3 million euros short,’ said George disdainfully.
So Daniel made a plan for what Pierre should tell his family. The stories had to be from the good times - that they had sat together by candlelight and played chess and had long conversations.
‘Don’t tell them I was tortured,’ Daniel asked.
Inspired by the Spaniards and the Frenchmen, they also got another idea. So that Daniel could get a hint of how the negotiations about his release were going, they agreed that some secret codes should be inserted into the last proof-of-life questions which the family would be asked to send to Daniel.
If things were looking bad for his release, they would send a question about Kjeld’s red truck. In that case, Daniel could make up his own mind whether or not he wanted to try to escape if the opportunity arose. If a release seemed possible, but they weren’t absolutely there yet, the question should be about his old motorcycle. Although the motorcycle wasn’t amber, he would remember the question as amber. And if they had collected all the money, the question should deal with the apple-green car he had sold to his parents.
Red, amber, green. He would be able to remember the colours of blood and hope, even if they beat the life out of him.
Pierre and Daniel gave each other a long hug. When the moment came for Pierre to leave, they had already said their goodbyes.
‘We’ll see each other when we go to Scotland,’ said Pierre, referring to an earlier promise they’d made to each other.
Before the Frenchmen were released, the Beatles brought a guest to the cell one day in mid-April 2014. When the hostages were given the order to turn around again, a woman in a black veil stood by the far wall. She pulled the veil to one side and introduced herself as Kayla Mueller from the United States. She said she had a message for the US government that the Frenchmen should deliver.
She said that she was well and the demand for her release was €5 million - or a woman prisoner for a woman prisoner. If the latter, ISIS was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who had been sentenced to eighty-six years in prison in the US for an attack on US agents and military personnel in Afghanistan. Kayla said that she had been held hostage since August 2013. The young aid worker had been kept in many of the same prisons as Daniel.
When she and the Beatles again disappeared out of the cell, the hostages talked about how they could help Kayla, who was probably locked up in a cell alone.
The day after Kayla’s visit, the Beatles told the Frenchmen they would be released, but that among the many euros that had been delivered as ransom were 4,000 damaged banknotes.
‘But we aren’t Jews, so we will free you in a few days,’ said one of them and ordered the Frenchmen to tell the authorities about the worthless notes they had received. At the same time George demanded that the other hostages should write letters home.
The Beatles came back the next morning and George was furious because nobody had finished their letters. One of the hostages objected gently that he had told them they had two days.
‘Did I say two days …?’ mumbled George.
Daniel scribbled down a few sentences to say that his family should hurry and pay the ransom.
Pierre sat waiting with his hands and face against the wall, while the guards came and went through the open door to the corridor, where there was intense activity. Pierre and his countrymen were led out of the cell for the last time.
On his way out, Pierre quickly laid a hand on Daniel’s shoulder.
‘Goodbye, see you later,’ he said, and Daniel watched him disappear, wearing the jacket that had the drawing of Daniel sewn into one sleeve.
· * ·
The kidnappers’ response to Susanne and Kjeld’s offer of €845,000 wasn’t exactly encouraging. Using exclamation marks and capital letters, they emphasized in their reply that they wouldn’t accept less than €2 million. They once again urged Daniel’s family to contact the freed hostages, including the three women from MSF, who had been released in the meantime.
‘You may also take the opportunity to ask these families and representatives how they managed to raise the sum demanded for their release, so that you may do the same,’ was the message.
The daily updates on the fundraising weren’t encouraging either. The flood of contributions had slowed. As a result Anita extended the circle of contributors to include people who didn’t necessarily know Daniel. A letter was circulated to the principals of Denmark’s schools and colleges which had been signed by several principals of the schools where Daniel had been a student and taught, as well as by the bishop of Ribe Diocese, where Susanne was originally from. Because they hadn’t yet been able to collect the whole ransom money, the letter called on each recipient to ‘share it by email with people you trust in your own network’. They explained:
A lot of money has been collected for the family and they now have more than half of what is expected to be needed to free Daniel. There are a number of private companies and business people who have chosen to support the collection. But it has also to a large degree been the breadth of support from the community, where the ‘many small streams’ have made such a difference.
While the family in Hedegård was in a race against time, in mid-April happy pictures of the four released Frenchmen made news around the world. Because France had the exact opposite approach to hostage negotiations as Denmark, when they landed on French soil in front of rolling cameras the released hostages were greeted by a welcome committee consisting of President François Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
‘France is proud to have been able to secure their release,’ said Hollande as he stood beside the four men.
Pierre tried to blend in with the asphalt and stood furthest away from the president and Didier François, who gave a speech, saying how great it was to be free and back ‘out in the open’. Pierre felt uncomfortable about being seen with the president and about the state making such a big deal out of his release. Moreover, this was what the Beatles had warned against: talking to the press while negotiations about other hostages were still ongoing.
· * ·
When the Frenchmen left the Quarry in Raqqa, the remaining prisoners were divided into Muslims and non-Muslims. James, John, Peter and Toni were escorted into another room diagonally opposite. Daniel, Dan and his colleague Federico, Alan, Steven and David stayed in the cell where they had always been and where there was suddenly so much space they could turn around without getting someone else’s foot in their crotch.
Daniel used the space to train himself to run a marathon in a circle on the floor. As he ran round and round on a blanket, so that he didn’t make a noise, he updated Dan about how it was going. He was in poor shape, so he started out gently with a daily distance of what he loosely calculated had to be about two kilometres, when the running circle was about nine metres and he ran 220 laps.
His training programme was interrupted when a new hostage was thrown into the cell.
‘Get to know him well - he’s going to be here a long time,’ said one of the Beatles, slamming the door behind him.
The man was of dark complexion and seemed to be in his mid-fifties. What little hair he had left was grey and he wore a long, grey tunic. He had a frightened look in his eyes and asked in poor English who these people were that had taken him. The hostages offered him food and water, but he declined and prayed to Allah. A few hours later, George came into the cell with a marker pen and some sheets of A4 paper and ordered the remaining hostages who weren’t from Britain or the United States to write exactly the words he dictated. With the marker, Daniel wrote:
I don’t want to end like him. Pay 2 M. Go to Danish Government.
Daniel accidentally wrote the ‘G’ in ‘Government’ backwards and George kicked him in the side, screwed up the paper and gave Daniel a new sheet to start again. Maybe it was fear, but Daniel wrote the ‘G’ backwards again. George gave up and made Federico write Daniel’s message instead.
Daniel’s brain was running at full speed. ‘I don’t want to end like him.’ What the hell did that mean? And why weren’t Alan, Steven and David, who were sitting in the same room, writing a similar message? Daniel, Federico, Dan and the Belgian were asked to follow, while Toni, who had also written a note, was dragged out from the other room, where the Muslim converts were sitting. For the first time, they didn’t have their hands tied behind their backs, only blindfolds. Daniel, Federico and Toni were pushed into the back seat of a car, while Dan and the Belgian were in another car.
‘Do you know what you’re going to do?’ asked George cheerfully from the driver’s seat.
No one answered.
‘You’re going to watch someone be executed,’ he said. He told them that the man who was to be executed was a North African spy who worked for the West, which was why the ISIS sharia court had sentenced him to death for espionage.
‘And you’re going to watch. Don’t worry, you’re OK.’
The Brit began playing music in the car, a nasheed, an ISIS Islamic hymn, and he chanted along as they drove.
‘Stay in your seats,’ ordered George when the car stopped.
The door opened and a hand gripped Daniel’s arm. He got out of the car and could feel through his thin sandals that he was walking through sand and scattered pebbles. George pushed the blindfold down around Daniel’s neck so that he could see a desert landscape with scattered tufts of grass - and a bulldozer. He led Daniel and the other four hostages in front of a hole, the size of which was similar to what an excavator could take with a shovelful.
The middle-aged man from the cell was on his knees next to the hole, in his grey tunic and a reddish-yellow blindfold. His hands were tied together with a strip of fabric and it struck Daniel that the Beatles weren’t going to waste a pair of handcuffs on a dead man.
The hostages were asked to hold their A4 sheets up in front of them. The wind was gusting strongly and Daniel held his paper tight, so it wouldn’t blow out of his hands.
The man’s lips were moving in a final prayer. John was standing behind him with his Glock pistol; Ringo was filming from the other side of the grave, and George was choreographing the entire scene.
‘Look into the camera and hold your pages towards the camera!’ shouted Ringo.
‘Don’t fuck up, Daniel, or we’ll shoot you!’ George chimed in, picking on Daniel even more.
The wind threw the warm desert air into Daniel’s face as he gazed at the praying, condemned man and gripped his page.
John took a few steps back and shot the man in the back of the head, so that he toppled over, head first, then landed on his back with his legs against the wall of the grave. The sound of the shot from the pistol cut through the wind and blasted through Daniel’s eardrums with such force that it felt as if they were exploding.
John went over to the grave, targeted his pistol at the already dead man and sent eight more shots into his chest. Blood was pouring through the victim’s reddish-yellow blindfold and out on to the cracked desert floor at the bottom of the pit. Ringo panned with his camera from the executed man and up to the five hostages who were kneeling like sand sculptures by the edge of the hole with their messages in front of them. Daniel stared at the man’s lifeless body and felt a sense of relief that death happened so quickly when it finally came. The Beatles had talked so much about beheadings that it was a relief to see that they could also use a firearm.
The hostages were ordered to climb down into the grave, after which Ringo took photographs of the hostages with his SLR camera. Daniel was between Dan and Toni, and while they held up their papers to the camera, Ringo took a series of photos with at least two hostages in each.
‘Look into the camera!’ shouted Ringo to Daniel, who was staring down at the corpse by his feet.
When Daniel raised his head and looked towards the camera, which Ringo was holding in front of his face, the Brit shouted, ‘Noooooo, stop staring at me!’
On their way back to the cell, Ringo leaned towards Daniel and whispered in his ear, ‘Want to hear a secret? You’re next.’
Daniel’s heart was pounding. Ringo was right. If his family didn’t collect the money fast enough, they could use him as blackmail in the other cases. They probably wouldn’t kill an MSF worker, Italy would pay for Federico, and the Americans and British were worth more politically than a man from a small country.
When they returned to the cell, Steven, Alan and David asked what had happened. While Daniel and the four others had been forced to watch the execution for the proof-of-life video, the Americans and the British had been left in uncertainty. Daniel didn’t want to express his fears in front of others who had been given no sign that negotiations for their release were taking place. Instead, he went over to Dan, who, thanks to his employer paying the ransom, would soon be on his way out. Still afraid that Ringo was right, Daniel began desperately writing down names of people his family could contact in order to help raise the ransom. He used a green ballpoint to draft a list that Dan could take home to his family: names of business and media people, politicians, trade unions, ‘the Queen and more’.
‘If I’m going to get out, then it fucking well needs to be now,’ Daniel said despondently.
‘Calm down, everything will be OK,’ reassured Dan.
‘If I don’t get out of here alive, and you get out, will you do me a favour?’ Daniel asked.
‘Buy a bouquet of roses for Signe, and one for Christina when she finishes high school.’
· * ·
On 19 April an email landed in Susanne’s inbox. It was the sort of email the family had agreed with Arthur they wouldn’t open. It contained a compressed file that came with instructions on how to download it, as well as a password which included ‘9-11’.
Arthur was the first to download the file. It was Ringo’s video from the grave in the desert. There were also several photographs of Daniel, who was holding the paper with the demand for €2 million. He stood in a white shirt, and his blindfold, a piece of grey cloth, was wrapped around his neck. The captors wrote in the email:
Stop wasting valuable time and come up with our demand for cash before it’s too late.
The Easter gala for Daniel’s benefit was held in Svendborg. Volunteers had been working hard to get the arrangements off the ground. A number of gymnasts were going to perform; some people had organized a bake sale; and Anita had made sure the audience could further contribute to the fund by buying photographs that Daniel had taken of the World Team in Denmark.
Anita gave a welcome speech and she took a deep breath as she stood alone in the spotlight on the floor in front of 1,100 paying spectators, who had crowded into the hall. She stuck closely to her script.
‘First, on behalf of the family, I’d like to thank you all for coming here today - not only those of you who knew the purpose of the show in advance, but also those of you who have just found out. For obvious reasons, it has been necessary to exercise great discretion about the show being a support show for my brother,’ she began.
‘Unfortunately, we haven’t reached our target yet and that is why we still need your help. But we also know that many of you who are here today have already supported us financially and that the possibilities you have of giving us further support are limited. So the greatest help you can give is if all of you go home and pass on the message to your networks and anyone you think will support us.’
The sea of people in front of her applauded and the show began.
Even though the Easter gala brought in 175,000 kroner (€23,500/£18,200), Anita was running out of ideas about where next to turn to reach the target. Daniel’s pictures hadn’t exactly been bestsellers. It was only thanks to some slightly larger contributions, and because they took a chance and offered about 2 million kroner more than they actually had, that, on 24 April, the family could email Syria with an offer of 9.7 million kroner (about €1.3 million or £1,009,300).
The agreement was that the kidnappers would send a picture of Daniel when the family had collected €1.3 million, which they did the same day. Susanne thought that Daniel had put on weight. His face looked almost plump or swollen as he sat there, holding a sign with the message: ‘We appreciate your quick reply and the fact that four more have been united’ - a reference to the release of the French.
Pierre also reached out to Daniel’s family. He called Susanne’s mobile while she was sitting on the sofa with a blanket over her legs. She had difficulty understanding the French-English accent, but managed to interpret that, according to Pierre, Daniel was well. They agreed that the family would call Pierre over Skype, so that Arthur could also be present and act as interpreter.
They all gathered in front of the computer, listening to Pierre as he recounted how he and Daniel had played games, done gymnastics and spent time together in the evening.
‘The kidnappers would like to release Daniel,’ said Pierre.
Anita asked about the pearl-shaped marks around Daniel’s neck, which were there on the first images the family had received during the summer of 2013.
‘What happened to him?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Pierre. ‘Daniel got those before I got to know him.’ He went on to address Anita, saying that he knew she had won the World Championship in bodybuilding.
The most important message he had to pass on, however, was the wording of the questions that Arthur and the family had to formulate the next time the kidnappers asked them to send some. Pierre passed on the codes that he and Daniel had agreed about the red truck, the amber motorcycle and the apple-green car.
‘Daniel wants to know the truth,’ concluded Pierre. ‘Even if you send a question to which the answer is Kjeld’s red truck.’
· * ·
‘Where’s the Danish boy?’
The question echoed around the cell, where all the hostages were now together again. The converts, James, John, Peter and Toni, had been moved back.
John was standing with a camera in his hands.
‘Are you ready to have your picture taken?’ he asked. Daniel felt that the British guard was staring at his body. ‘Have you been exercising?’
‘A little,’ said Daniel.
‘Then we can box with you,’ suggested John and began hitting and slapping Daniel’s body.
‘I’m not so good at boxing,’ Daniel said, trying to avoid being drawn in to the fight.
John and Ringo threw punches at his shoulders and ribs until Daniel lay on the floor in the foetal position.
‘You’re bad at boxing … Would you rather dance?’ John took hold of Daniel’s clothes and pulled him to his feet. ‘Come on, let’s dance!’ he shouted.
Daniel felt John’s hand on the upper part of his back. He stood face to face with the hooded Brit who was holding Daniel’s outstretched arm and forcing him over the floor in a stiff tango pose. Daniel didn’t dare look at John and instead stared down at his desert boots and his own bare feet, which were moving in tandem, back and forth in a fierce tango, while the rest of the Beatles laughed.
John’s back felt broad and muscular under Daniel’s hand. Each time they turned, the Brit exaggerated the movements before again flinging Daniel across the floor.
Stop, stop, stop! he screamed inside. Suddenly John stopped.
‘Look into the camera,’ he said and gave Daniel a few slaps. ‘Look unhappy,’ he continued, while he took pictures of his Danish prisoner.
‘Perfect, Daniel. That was well done.’
Suddenly, one of the Brits tackled Daniel from behind while another pushed him forwards, so he toppled to the floor.
‘Do you like my boot?’ said John, sticking the toe end of his boot into Daniel’s mouth. ‘Taste the earth.’
One of the other guards found a pair of pliers and, while holding his arms and legs against the floor, they put the pliers on Daniel’s nose, to their own great amusement. Then they clamped it on his fingers.
‘What do you think? Should we cut off his nose or his fingers?’ they teased.
When the Beatles were finally done beating him up, Daniel sat back bruised and bewildered.
‘Is there anyone who can cut hair?’ asked one of the British guards.
Daniel raised his hand.
‘Then come with me.’
They let him walk out of the cell into the corridor without a blindfold or handcuffs. With his face to the wall, he sat cross-legged on a carpet with a trimmer, scissors and a comb and a bucket for the tufts of hair. John stood in the doorway and called James out from his place in the cell. James came out and sat down opposite Daniel with a document in his hands on which there were a series of statements he had to practise saying.
The haircut was an attempt to get the three American and the three British hostages to look good on the video recordings the Beatles were preparing. Daniel trimmed James’s sideburns, cut back the length of his hair a little and trimmed his moustache, while James practised reciting a demand of €100 million in ransom - or the extradition of six Muslim prisoners from the United States. James had to talk about his brother, who was in the Air Force, and about his own trips as a reporter, when he had been with the US forces in Afghanistan. Daniel got a chill down his spine. The message sounded more like a death sentence than a real demand.
‘I’d like to keep it a bit long,’ said James about his hair and, while Daniel concentrated on fulfilling his wish, Ringo stood staring at them.
‘Is that OK?’ asked Daniel.
It obviously was, because Ringo ordered James back to the cell to get ready to be filmed. Daniel subsequently gave a trim to the five other Americans and Brits, all of whom had also received a piece of paper with a message they had to recite. In the cell next door to theirs, George was rummaging around, preparing to film the hostages. But it turned out that it was too dark in the room and the Beatles postponed the video production until they had found some lamps.
When Daniel’s fellow prisoners came back from the unsuccessful recording in the other cell, they said that Kayla Mueller was there with another western woman they hadn’t seen before. They decided to try to smuggle a message to the women when they had to go back and make the videos. The Beatles didn’t take long to get hold of lamps, cables and a Nikon camera, and talked elatedly about what they called their ‘new media centre’, where the two women were apparently staying. Six new orange jumpsuits were delivered to the British and American hostages, who disappeared into the room to be filmed.
When they returned, they were told that they should put on their normal clothes and save the orange suits for later. While they had been away, they had managed to deliver a note to Kayla. It said that they could communicate through a small hatch in the toilet, which all the hostages shared.
There was silence. Peter was in a panic and afraid. James tried to take care of his countrymen.
‘I know it doesn’t look good, but we just have to keep hoping until the end,’ he said to Steven and Peter. They were no longer united in hope. It was clear to everyone that the remaining prisoners held by ISIS were now in two different categories: those who made videos in front of a grave carrying messages about ransoms, to be used in negotiations, and those who, wearing orange jumpsuits, had to recite unrealistic demands to countries that didn’t pay ransoms or allow the families of hostages to raise money.
Daniel had been told that a ransom of €1.3 million had now been offered for him, yet he feared that his family would never be able to collect the amount demanded, despite the list of potential sources of money he had given Dan when he and his MSF colleague left the prison in mid-May. Something suggested, however, that the two released hostages were still waiting somewhere in Syria to cross the border with Turkey, because suddenly the Beatles demanded that Daniel write a letter to his family. He felt that time was running out. Apart from the British and Americans, there were only Federico, Toni and himself left. Since the Beatles didn’t demand a specific wording in the letter, he wrote something more personal.
‘It’s hard to see people who have been here a much shorter time than me go home to their families,’ he wrote, and made suggestions about whom they could ask for help.
I pray every day that this nightmare will soon have a happy ending […] I pray that Christina stays strong and will soon be finished with high school. Thinking of you makes me strong. Signe, I love you more than you can imagine and I am so sorry that I put what we have together at stake […] I pray that one day I can come home and see you all again.
· * ·
Arthur was in Lebanon when he received Daniel’s letter. If it had been possible, he would like to have delivered it to the family personally when he was back in Denmark, but he thought it would take too long. He wasn’t planning to go back soon. So he decided to call Susanne and read it aloud to her. The aim of the letter was to put pressure on the family, but the tone of it was different from the letters they had previously received from Daniel. This time Daniel had put his feelings into it - and written it in his own words. In Arthur’s view, Daniel being able to write and express himself was a positive sign. Susanne was at work in Legoland when the phone rang. Since she couldn’t stand in the shop and talk, she took it with her outside to a courtyard.
As Arthur read her son’s words, she hid behind some containers, because she couldn’t hold back the tears. Daniel was asking her to be strong and to fight. He missed her and was thinking of her.
Hidden from her colleagues behind the container’s iron surface, she could no longer observe the proprieties of being an unworried mother and employee. She hung up, but sat there for a long time afterwards until her tears had dried.