The ISIS Hostage (2016)
Hi Mum, It’s Daniel
Anita had to think creatively. Even though she was grateful and proud that the family had been able to collect many millions of kroner, it still wasn’t enough and donations had dropped so much that she feared the family wouldn’t be able to pay to free Daniel. She had to get more people to take an interest in her brother.
In the middle of May an anniversary celebration was held for Vesterlund Youth School’s former pupils and Anita set up a stand where she sold Daniel’s pictures and gave a speech, in which she quoted his recent more personal letter from Syria.
But Anita had to admit that Daniel’s plight wasn’t attracting the attention it once had. Their network of contributors had given all they could, and the event only brought in a modest amount. The family had raised about 80 per cent of the ransom and Anita felt that the time was ripe to contact large companies and business people. Since they had already collected most of the amount, it seemed less presumptuous to ask wealthy people who didn’t know the family, whether it be individuals or companies, if they could help.
She took the chance and went all-in with a new letter that described the details of Daniel’s situation, which she urged them not to bring to public attention while the case was unresolved. In the document, she included the first proof-of-life image of Daniel and she revealed the ransom amount, as well as how much the family had collected - and she described the video from the grave with the threat that Daniel could be killed if they didn’t pay.
Within days, the donations began coming in. There were apparently some people in Denmark who were prepared to go to great lengths to help a person in need and, on 22 May, the family submitted a new offer to the kidnappers.
‘We really hope that you will consider this offer and respond,’ wrote Arthur and the family in the email. They offered €1,710,000 (£1,300,100), equivalent to more than 12.8 million kroner.
Three days later the kidnappers responded, briefly and unmistakably: ‘Only 300,000 Euros left to go.’
They enclosed an audio file in which Daniel said ‘Hurry up’ - and added that they would more than double the demand to €5 million. The negotiations, which in fact were not negotiations but an absolute demand, were going in the wrong direction.
Anita checked her mobile every fifteen minutes for messages and answered calls, day and night. She couldn’t even sit and have dinner with her boyfriend for half an hour without being interrupted.
In late May she took a day off from fundraising and went to the cultural festival in Odense Harbour. There were stalls with organic honey, folk dancing and a climbing wall, and Anita played a game of kayak polo. During the hour she was in the water, her mobile was in her bag in the judge’s tent. She let go of the battle between life and death for a moment and felt only her body moving around in the kayak.
When she came ashore, her bag had gone. Thieves had zipped open the tent and snatched the bag containing her mobile - her lifeline to people who were trying to help the family. The latest letters she had sent out contained only her and their lawyer’s contact information, so as to spare Susanne and Kjeld.
Anita took the situation with her usual stoic calm and did everything to get back up and running, but it wasn’t without obstacles, especially when it turned out that her email account had been hacked. She couldn’t get her Gmail account to recognize that it was she who was logging in and there was no customer service department to call. She got hold of someone who sold advertising for Google and berated him with her story of a younger brother who was being held hostage in Syria and would be killed unless they collected enough money. The employee put her in touch with the right people. When she was finally able to log on to her email account, everything was in Arabic and emails to her had been deleted or automatically forwarded to the thieves’ email address. The worst thing was that the thieves had sent an email out to all her contacts, including those she had emailed in recent months about the fundraiser, stating that Anita was in distress and needed the money.
In the midst of this chaos, the family received a new email from Syria filled with threatening capitals.
We hope for your sake that you’re checking this email frequently because AS OF THIS POINT ON you have 24 hours to have the FULL 2 Million EUROS CASH READY!!
If the family didn’t pay the full ransom by the deadline, the kidnappers would add on another €5,000 for each day they had to wait. According to them, this punishment had been meted out by a sharia court and the daily penalty wasn’t negotiable.
· * ·
Daniel and his fellow prisoners had succeeded in exchanging brief messages with Kayla and the other woman who were in the cell next door. They developed a system where they hid small pieces of paper in the toilet. When the messages had been read, they tore them into pieces and ate them.
Sometimes they were serious messages; other times they played Trivial Pursuit. The women would leave a piece of paper with a question such as ‘Who played the role of Aragon in Lord of the Rings?’ The men would hide the answer and a counter-question when they were next allowed to go to the toilet.
Daniel considered these communications to be extremely dangerous, but it also felt right to try to keep everyone’s spirits up. He mostly just concentrated on his training, which was easier to do now, because there was more space in the cell. The Italian Federico had been the latest to leave the prison. Apart from the women the only ones left were Daniel, German Toni and the six Brits and Americans.
On 2 June the Beatles launched a new cycle of violence. At four in the morning they came storming in without the usual warning and ordered the hostages to sit with their backs to them and their hands four inches from the wall. They had to go to the toilet one at a time. When it was Daniel’s turn, he put on his sandals and grabbed a piss bucket, but as soon as he came out into the corridor, he was struck several times with a truncheon. He ran into the toilet, emptied the bucket, peed, washed his hands and ran back towards the cell, the Brit with the truncheon close behind him. Daniel threw off his sandals and walked onto the blankets with the piss bucket in his hand.
‘Why are you doing that?’ cried the guard and hit him hard four more times with the truncheon as punishment.
The Beatles introduced this new routine around toilet visits four times a day. The hostages woke up in a panic early in the morning, ready for the Beatles flinging the door open and beating them on their way to the toilet. It was worse still when the violence struck randomly and unpredictably outside the toilet visits.
‘Who is the Danish boy?’ shouted one of the Beatles. Daniel didn’t dare answer.
‘WHO is the Danish boy?’
‘Me,’ he whispered.
‘You’re from the country with the Muhammad cartoons!’ they shouted and hit him three times.
This sort of thing happened at all times of day and night and the violence befell everyone. The Americans, James, Steven and Peter, sat in the corner of the cell and clung to each other. Everyone was beside themselves.
And suddenly the Beatles were there again.
‘Who wrote these letters?’ shouted Ringo.
He didn’t wait for an answer, but began clubbing everyone on the back of the head. They must have found the small pieces of paper with the messages to the women in the toilet.
Only a brief moment passed before they stomped into the cell again and gave Daniel and James thirty dead legs each. The dead legs weren’t like those Daniel and his friends had given each other in school. They came with such violent force that he feared they would break a bone. He lay on his blanket and wept, and neither James nor he could walk the following two days.
The hostages moved their sleeping places as far away from the door as possible, and to overcome the fear that hung in the air Daniel told stories about the European Championships in gymnastics. He also invented a method of relaxation that he used on the others. He squeezed his fellow prisoners’ skin so hard between their thumb and forefinger that the pain was excruciating. He held on for one minute. When he let go, they relaxed. The Beatles were becoming more officious, searching the room regularly and forbidding the prisoners to do just about everything. Daniel wasn’t allowed to exercise any more.
‘You’ve gotten bigger!’ they shouted, and took away food and the card games from the prisoners.
The daily routines that the hostages had built up and cherished despite everything were being irrevocably ripped to shreds by the Beatles.
· * ·
For the family, every hour - even every minute - counted. In the past week they had collected an additional €156,000. They now only needed €134,000 to reach €2 million, plus the daily fines. Even in a situation like this, when there was just a small amount of the required ransom missing, the authorities would do nothing. They wouldn’t step in and lend the family the balance.
Fortunately, three individuals offered to cover the rest by lending the family the remaining money and on 4 June Susanne, Kjeld and Anita could finally send an email to the kidnappers, with Arthur’s help, explaining that they expected to be in possession of the full ransom sum the following week. They outlined the reason for the delay:
Unfortunately, the banks here in Denmark are closed for the next few days - Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday - due to public holidays (Constitution Day and Whitsun). We give you herewith our guarantee that we have the required amount, but the money will not be available to us before next Tuesday (10 June).
They emphasized that they had no control over the final practical arrangements or the delay, and that they didn’t want to extend the process any further. Finally, they asked for instructions on how the money should be handed over.
The ransom sum was to be exchanged for euros by the National Bank, at a cost of 20,000 kroner, and thereafter taken to Turkey in cash. The Danish state wasn’t allowed to transport ransoms, so the family - and, therefore, Arthur - would be responsible for taking the money to Turkey. Just two hours later, the kidnappers wrote back. The family had to verify when ‘the full amount’ in euros arrived in Turkey, and there was one further demand:
THE CASH MUST ALL BE IN 500 EURO NOTES that are not torn, misprinted or damaged in any way!
Arthur was beginning to prepare for Daniel’s release bit by bit, while the crisis psychologist acquainted the family with how such a process normally took place. No one could know the mental and physical state Daniel would be in when, as Arthur hoped, he came across the border into Turkey. There was still the possibility that Arthur would have to arrange for Daniel to be picked up in Syria and brought to Turkey.
However the exchange was going to take place, it was essential there was a crisis team around Daniel which, as a rule, didn’t include members of his family. Experience showed that it could be initially difficult for the person who had been released to relate to an unhappy mother, an overexcited friend or a delighted sister.
Even so, the crisis psychologist and Arthur suggested that Anita come to Turkey with them. She was capable of putting aside her emotions and could therefore be of assistance to Daniel, because she would be a familiar face among a lot of strangers.
A representative from the Danish Foreign Ministry was also part of the crisis team. The Ministry’s emissary was going to Turkey with them to provide so-called consular assistance, such as the issuance of an emergency passport and to sort out any hassles with the Turkish authorities. One scenario might be that Turkey would want to hold Daniel in order to get information from him or because they suspected him of complicity with ISIS. As Arthur explained to the family: ‘I’m your fixer, but I’m not the authorities.’
How Daniel was going to fly from Turkey to Denmark was also a subject of discussion. Since no one knew what state he would be in, Arthur suggested that it would be better if Daniel didn’t have to fly commercially, such as on Turkish Airlines. The Danish Air Force had an aircraft available which Peter Bartram, the Danish Chief of Defence, thought could do the job. If Daniel was in a poor physical or mental condition, he wouldn’t have to wait for weeks to come home to Denmark.
In addition, a doctor and an operative from the intelligence services would be part of the team in Turkey. Since a criminal offence had been committed against a Danish citizen, PET’s responsibility was to ensure that the procedures were followed and all the evidence was collected if there was a possibility of filing a case.
Arthur prepared himself for what he both hoped and feared was just around the corner: the money transfer to ISIS that would set Daniel free.
· * ·
The Beatles dished out thirty more dead legs. Daniel no longer screamed in silence. He resisted for the first time.
‘If you don’t stop, you’ll ruin my legs!’ he shouted, beside himself with pain.
It worked, but not as intended, as the Beatles then began beating up one of his fellow prisoners instead. He waited apprehensively for a proof-of-life question, but none came. Meanwhile, he talked with James about taking a letter out to his family in New Hampshire if Daniel was released. Perhaps it would be James’s last chance to communicate with them.
‘I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do it,’ said Daniel, looking at James’s three-page handwritten letter. He was frightened of carrying a physical letter from an American whom the Beatles were denying any channel of communication. He and James talked about whether Daniel should stick the letter up his rear end, or if it would be OK just to hide it in his underpants. They had no idea what would happen to Daniel when he left the cell. Perhaps he would be body-searched.
‘You shouldn’t take the risk,’ said James.
They decided that the safest method was for Daniel to learn the letter by heart. They sat next to each other, cross-legged with their backs against the wall. When Daniel read the first line, he ground to a halt. James’s i’s looked like z’s and his handwriting was almost illegible. James took the letter and read out one line at a time, which Daniel repeated. He also asked detailed questions about James’s family in order to remember the words better. James talked about his cycling trip with his mother and the shopping centre he visited with his father; about his sister, who was going to get married; and he repeated the names of his brothers, Michael, John and Mark, whom he missed every single day.
James started talking about the lack of any negotiations. He wanted Daniel to say to his family that he believed his captors had another plan for the British and American hostages, and that he had written this letter as a last farewell, because he was afraid that he would never come home.
‘Don’t ask me to deliver your own death certificate,’ pleaded Daniel and asked for more specific greetings to the family.
They reviewed the letter over and over again, until Daniel knew it by heart, so that they could finally tear it up and eat it.
In the following days, Daniel memorized the words and would sometimes ask, ‘Repeat that sentence again.’
James sent greetings to his brothers, his sister Katie, his mother Diane and father John and his maternal grandmother. Daniel promised that he would call them and pass on James’s message as soon as he was free.
· * ·
The tenth of June was a day of relief. When Susanne and Kjeld pressed ‘send’ on their email to ISIS, it carried a message that the ransom had arrived in Turkey. They also sent an apple-green question to Daniel.
Who bought his old car?
‘Susanne and I guarantee that we will keep our part of the agreement. It is extremely important that nothing goes wrong at the last moment. We hope to hear from you soon.’
After an hour and fifty-five minutes, the answer was in their inbox.
We are pleased to hear that you have our CASH ready.
For once, there were fewer capital letters, but before the kidnappers would give proof of life, the family had to confirm that the money was in €500 banknotes and that they had included the daily penalties.
This confirmation MUST be within 24 hours. Also you MUST be ready to follow any instructions given IMMEDIATELY.
Susanne and Kjeld confirmed straight away. Arthur was waiting in Turkey, ready to hand over the €2,040,000 as soon as they had a proof of life from Daniel and instructions on where and how to deliver the money.
The payment of the ransom took place at a critical moment. On the same day, ISIS launched an offensive in Iraq that could have put Daniel’s life in danger if he remained in captivity. Thousands were fleeing Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, with whatever they could carry, while clouds of smoke rose into the air over the metropolis and the nearby military camps. ISIS fighters quickly seized control. The Iraqi security forces, who had been trained in the 2000s by the United States and Denmark, among others, fled from their positions faster than the civilians. Widespread corruption and lack of loyalty in the Iraqi army led to the soldiers discarding their uniforms as soon as they sensed an attack was on its way.
‘The city fell like a plane without engines,’ a businessman from Mosul told the Guardian.
It was no coincidence that Mosul fell to ISIS so easily. After the American invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi army had been dissolved; an action that stripped away the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Moreover, the Americans introduced a policy of ‘de-Ba’athification’, the purpose of which was to remove the influence of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party on any new political system. This meant that all civil servants affiliated with the Ba’ath Party were banned from future employment in the public sector. In short, many Iraqis were excluded from participating in building the new Iraq. This strategy contributed to an uprising among Sunni Muslims, whose role in Iraq had diminished due to their affiliation with Saddam’s Ba’ath Party.
After US forces withdrew from Iraq in late 2011, the now heavily Shiite-dominated government further excluded the country’s Sunni Muslims. Despite what President Barack Obama proclaimed, it wasn’t a ‘sovereign, stable and independent Iraq with a representative government’ when the Americans left, but a cauldron of sectarian tension and a corrupt power apparatus.
ISIS was born in the shadow of the western invasion, nurtured in the chaos of the Syrian Civil War and matured into a fully fledged army and political presence in Iraq when its warriors captured Mosul, where many Sunnis welcomed them as an alternative to the Shiite government in Baghdad.
ISIS looted hundreds of millions of dollars from the city’s banks and took over military equipment that had been given to the Iraqi army by the Americans. Within a few days ISIS troops were driving around in American Humvees in their capital of Raqqa. They had successfully abolished the borders between Iraq and Syria with their self-proclaimed caliphate.
It was only a matter of time before the United States would return to Iraq with bombs.
· * ·
On 11 June the Beatles pounded heavily on the wooden door and the hostages turned towards the wall. The British guards went round, hammering their fists into the hostages’ ribs, before George stopped at Daniel. While holding his nose, he asked, ‘Are you the Danish boy?’
‘Yes, I am.’
‘We have a question for you,’ continued George.
Daniel tensed. He was about to know for certain whether he was on his way home.
‘Who bought your old car?’
There was no question in the world he would rather answer, because his old car was, of course, apple-green. Green. Freedom.
‘My parents bought it.’
‘Write about the car on this piece of paper. How much did they pay for it?’
‘Thirty-five thousand kroner, about five thousand euros,’ said Daniel.
‘You stupid boy. Did you really sell your car to your own family?’
He wrote it all down: that he had bought it new in 2007 for 110,000 kroner; that it was a Chevrolet Matiz with a 0.8 litre engine; that a medal from the Danish national championships hung from the rear-view mirror; and that the car was apple-green.
‘OK,’ said George. ‘Daniel, you are going home.’
They hadn’t said it so directly when any of the other hostages had been freed and the relief that Daniel felt for a moment was replaced by anxiety. What if they knew the code with green, red and amber? What if they had tortured Pierre and he had told them everything?
The Beatles disappeared and Daniel turned to the others, who knew the code with the apple-green car. Fear showed on their faces. They couldn’t hide the fact that they had only one hope: that they would soon be released too.
Yet they all gave Daniel a hug.
‘You’ve earned it,’ one said, but Daniel couldn’t take it in. The idea that he might be the last man to leave the prison alive was unbearable.
‘If you have something I should say once I’m out, tell me,’ he urged.
James stood up and gave Daniel a warm embrace and then he sat on his blanket between his countrymen. There was silence.
· * ·
Just before 3 p.m. on the afternoon of the same day, 11 June 2014, the family received answers to the proof-of-life question.
‘His parents bought the 2007 apple-green Chevrolet 0.8 from him for 35,000 DKK,’ wrote the kidnappers, who also wanted clarification of where the money was in southern Turkey.
Susanne was happily surprised by all the details about the car that Daniel sent back.
‘He’s understood the message with the green car!’ she said excitedly to Kjeld and wrote in her diary, addressed to Daniel, ‘You responded nicely to our question.’
From then on, Arthur took over the email correspondence. It was now up to him to bring Daniel home.
· * ·
Late at night on 11 June, the first instructions about the handover of the money arrived.
You will make your way to Kilis ASAP.
The kidnappers ordered Arthur to be in Kilis by 4 p.m. at the latest the following afternoon. He was told to constantly keep an eye on his email - ‘BY THE MINUTE’ - and have a yellow taxi waiting on standby until the last instructions were sent.
There were also demands about how the money would be transported: a strong, matte-black rucksack with a padlock on the zipper.
Hostage cases and handovers of ransoms were inherently volatile, but Arthur had never experienced anything like this. The terms came exclusively from ISIS. He felt extremely vulnerable and the exchange had so many risks at play that he stopped counting them.
Arthur lit his pipe. Although it could have consequences, after long consideration he chose to depart from the kidnappers’ instructions on one point.
He rented a white four-wheel-drive vehicle rather than be transported by an unsuspecting taxi driver who couldn’t speak English. He didn’t want to expose other people to the risk associated with handing over €2 million to ISIS.
Furthermore, he could imagine a scenario in which a nervous taxi driver called the police, because he was sitting on an abandoned road along the border with a strange, chain-smoking foreigner in the back seat, who was perhaps about to blow himself up or kidnap him. Arthur couldn’t confide in a random person about his intentions. He at least wanted to be the master of his own means of transport if the terrorists were dictating everything else.
On 12 June at 4.50 p.m. he received further instructions about driving east from Kilis to the town of Elbeyli.
At the beginning of this town there will be a welcome sign that reads ‘Hosgeldin’ and will possibly be worn out and unreadable. Nevertheless, this sign will be your meeting place, WHERE YOU WILL STAY, WAIT AND HAND OVER OUR CASH.
He should arrive at 8.30 p.m and wait until 10.30 p.m. at the latest. Someone would meet him and say the password ‘Turkcell’, to which he would respond ‘Vodafone’.
Arthur waited a little over an hour before answering with a meticulous repetition of the instructions and adding: ‘I have had difficulty finding a taxi driver who I can communicate with and provide detailed instructions to. I would therefore like to ask for your permission for me to come alone in my white 4x4 rental car.’ He added the number plate.
Arthur checked the rucksack with the cash one last time, as well as the satellite tracker that was his only lifeline. It would send a signal every minute to an operations room in the city of Aalborg in Denmark, which was in contact with his backup team, who were on standby two miles from the meeting point. The team included a doctor, who could handle a sudden emergency and would sound the alarm if they received coordinates that indicated Arthur was about to cross the border into Syria.
Arthur drove about six miles to Elbeyli, found his way through the small town and reached the sign that stood near the border. There were no street lights. The only light he could see came from a town some way off.
He parked the car so that it pointed in the direction of Kilis, turned off the engine and wound down the windows so that he could hear if anyone was approaching on foot in the dark. He could just make out a border fence and some vegetation in the rear-view mirror.
Arthur lit his pipe and thought about possible escape routes. At the side of the road heading into town there was a ditch, which he could jump into, but the nearest house was quite far away if he needed to take cover. He had previously studied the area on satellite photos and knew the terrain in his sleep.
The silence was broken only by the cicadas. Arthur waited and stuffed more tobacco into his pipe. The first vehicle he heard rumbling in the darkness was a tractor that was being driven without lights.
It’s probably just a Turkish peasant on his way home, thought Arthur. The next vehicle had its lights on. It was an armoured personnel carrier containing Turkish soldiers coming from the border. If they asked him to move on, Arthur had several explanations ready, about needing a pee and an engine that had stalled. Personally, he thought it looked strange that he had parked right there. The soldiers slowed down and gaped at him, but drove on.
Then he saw a motorcycle tearing up from the border towards Elbeyli at high speed with its headlights off. That drove by, too. A bunch of refugees then appeared out of the dark and stared into the car as they slowly walked past.
Suddenly he heard the motorcycle again. This time it stopped about ten feet from the car. There were two men sitting on it. They were both dressed in black from head to toe, including black ski masks, and Arthur could see they were armed. The engine was idling, while the man sitting behind the driver stepped down. Arthur opened the car door and got out. He had rolled up his shirt sleeves and clearly revealed his palms and arms as proof that he was unarmed as he walked a few steps towards them.
‘Assalamu alaikum,’ Arthur greeted them.
‘Wa alaikum assalaam,’ replied the man who had got off the motorcycle. He was about six feet tall and broad-chested under the black tunic.
‘Turkcell,’ continued the hooded man.
‘Vodafone,’ said Arthur.
Moving slowly, Arthur stuck his arm through the car window and lifted the rucksack off the floor behind the passenger seat. With the ransom money in his hand, Arthur went over to the ISIS fighter and gave him the rucksack. For a moment, the man lifted it, as if to check its weight was equivalent to €2 million.
Arthur put a hand out to signal that the deal was over and received a firm, almost hard, handshake. They nodded in agreement and held eye contact. Arthur felt they were both sizing each other up, looking for confirmation that they had a deal.
Then the man put the rucksack over his shoulders and sat on the back of the motorcycle, which revved its engine and headed towards the border.
Arthur stood for a minute and watched them disappear, before calmly getting into his car and driving towards Elbeyli. He sent a text message to his team: ‘All done.’
He then wrote a message via Susanne’s email to the captors, reporting that the money had been handed over to the men on the motorcycle.
‘We exchanged the passwords that you sent and I shook hands to seal a successful transaction with your representative, who had a very impressive grip,’ he wrote and asked for instructions on where and when Daniel would cross the border.
· * ·
Anita packed a large bag. After conversations with the crisis psychologist, she had gathered various things that Daniel would want when he came out; first and foremost, a pair of glasses so that he could see properly again. She had already sent them with Arthur to Turkey.
She filled Daniel’s old toiletry bag with luxury body scrub and a scrubbing glove, shampoo, lotion, a razor and shaving cream, nail clippers, a face mask and pills for diarrhoea.
She and Susanne found some of Daniel’s old, worn Birkenstock sandals and trainers in a cupboard. She had been told that people store a lot of their memories in the feet and Daniel should therefore have something pleasant and recognizable to wear. She also packed some clothes. Susanne had bought a pair of boxer shorts with hearts on them. In addition, Anita packed a new mobile, Daniel’s favourite kind of liquorice, and some notes and photos that she had collected from Daniel’s friends and immediate family.
On 15 June, three days after the money had been delivered, Anita flew to the Turkish town of Gaziantep with the crisis psychologist. As they prepared to land, she stared into Syria and wondered if she could see the building in which Daniel was being held.
They settled into the hotel, where the representative from the Danish Foreign Ministry had already arrived. The hotel was situated in a beautiful old castle, but, as the psychologist pointed out, the otherwise romantic setting might present some challenges for a recently released hostage. By the entrance, old bullet holes adorned the wall, while the rooms were small and dark with bars on the windows. Anita’s room had bare stone walls and only a small window that made it feel like a cave. The psychologist didn’t think it would be a good idea for Daniel to sleep there.
They checked the bridal suite, which had gold painted walls and furniture, but that wasn’t appropriate either. Daniel shouldn’t be spending his first night of freedom in a bridal bed with his sister. They finally found a corner room with large windows and more air. It would just about do, so Anita set herself up there.
Everything was planned down to the last detail. The emissary from the Danish Foreign Ministry would receive him, while Anita waited in the adjoining room. The psychologist and Anita had already discussed what they would say if Daniel asked about Signe. It seemed to Anita that Signe had become more distant recently, and she rarely answered the phone when Anita called. Perhaps Signe was no longer waiting for Daniel to come home. Perhaps she needed to move on with her life.
The border police along the Turkish−Syrian border were informed that they should call Arthur if they came across a blond Dane. Arthur kept a lookout for him, too, and drove back and forth along the border for several days, but nothing happened.
Time passed. Anita sat in the sun at the hotel, managing the fundraising, crocheting and, during the first days, waiting patiently for her brother to cross the border. Then a nervousness began to spread. All the evidence suggested that Daniel would be the last hostage to be released for the time being. It had occurred to them more than once that ISIS might refuse to release him if this was going to be their final deal.
Arthur sent messages to the kidnappers and asked about Daniel, but there was no reply.
· * ·
Daniel woke up every morning with a heavy head and body from disturbed sleep and nightmares. Hostages were usually released in the morning, but the Beatles kept Daniel in suspense.
You think you’re going home and then you don’t, said his inner voice.
Most of the other released hostages had been freed two, three or four days after the last proof-of-life question. One had had to wait for eight days, but that didn’t make Daniel feel any easier, even though he had been waiting for only three days.
He went and sat with Alan and David.
‘If I get out, I’ll tell your children how great you’ve been,’ he said.
‘You’ve also been great, Daniel. You helped us to work out.’ They told him that they couldn’t understand how he had managed to recover from the torture he had been subjected to in the beginning.
They hugged each other. Daniel never knew whether he would suddenly be fetched, so he wanted to make sure that he had said goodbye to the remaining seven hostages.
Four days after Daniel had been given his question about the apple-green car, the Beatles asked Toni a question. It only made Daniel even more uncertain and despondent, because it could mean that the German was first in line to be released.
The days crawled by and so did the nights. Daniel lay sleepless, staring out into the darkness and got up before dawn.
On the morning of 17 June, James was also awake. He went over and sat with Daniel and put his hand on his knee.
‘You need to be strong,’ said James softly. ‘Don’t worry, everything will be OK. They’ll probably come in a minute and then you’ll be on your way.’
Daniel didn’t understand where James got his extraordinary reserves of inner strength. He wished so much for all of them to be on their way home, not just himself and Toni.
James went back to sleep in his place in the corner. Shortly after, the Beatles banged on the cell door. They all knelt and turned to face the wall, their hands over their heads a few inches from the concrete. It was now, thought Daniel, that he would either die or go home.
The Beatles asked Daniel and Toni to turn around. In front of them stood a woman whom Daniel hadn’t seen before, but who had to be the other woman who was locked up with Kayla. When she removed her veil, he saw that she was quite a bit older than him.
‘Can you confirm that she’s alive?’ asked the Beatles.
‘Yes,’ answered Daniel.
The Beatles ordered the woman to pass on a message.
‘Just say they should hurry up and pay the money and do what they’re being told to do,’ she said.
Then she had to write the ransom sum on a piece of paper. She seemed nervous and Daniel tried to calm her by asking whether there was anything else he should tell her family.
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘Tell them I love them.’
‘Is there anything else you want to say?’ asked one of the Beatles irritably.
Then she was taken from the cell.
Daniel ended up leaving the cell without another word. He and Toni suddenly had blankets thrown over their heads; their hands were handcuffed behind their backs and, with a heavy shove, they were led away.
They were put into the back seat of a car. All three Beatles were going with them and George started the car. The hostages were told to duck down so that no one could see them.
‘Tell us what you know about us,’ ordered George from the front seat.
‘I know you’re from Great Britain and that you’re here to perform jihad,’ said Daniel.
‘Who are the Beatles?’ they asked.
‘That’s you,’ said Daniel.
George told him they had found a note that said something about the Beatles. He was probably referring to one of the notes that Daniel and his fellow prisoners had exchanged with the female hostages in the toilet.
‘What do you know about the Beatles?’ they asked, and Toni and Daniel told them that they called them John, George and Ringo, because they didn’t know their real names.
The interrogation stopped there and, after an hour, they pulled off the road and switched cars. That was the last time Daniel saw the Beatles - until one of them appeared in a video he would see two months later.
The driver of the car made Daniel and Toni put on blindfolds while he drove along small bumpy roads, before turning on to a larger, asphalted road.
After a few hours they were led into a house. They were allowed to move freely between two rooms, a toilet and a corridor, where there was an open window. Daniel recognized an orange floral blanket that one of the other hostages had had with him in the cell. It was a good sign.
A muscular warrior and a little boy came in with hummus, sardines and butter. Toni only ate the butter, while Daniel tucked into the rest, before falling, exhausted, into a deep sleep.
Late in the afternoon they were woken up with yoghurt and twelve pancakes, and, in the middle of the night, bread, tuna and cream cheese were served. After yet another night, on the morning of 19 June, they were hurriedly given hoods and handcuffed and herded a few hundred yards across a gravel yard to a new room, where Daniel did his usual training exercises to keep a cool head.
He was interrupted by a friendly man, who asked, ‘Is there anything you need?’
Daniel and Toni said, ‘No, thanks.’
They had no idea how they were supposed to reply to a question they hadn’t been asked for months. They just said, ‘We’re fine.’
‘Do you have shampoo and toothbrushes?’ asked the man and continued without waiting for an answer, ‘You need some new clothes. What size are you? Large?’
The man wrote a shopping list and came back with toothbrushes, shampoo, towels, cream, hair gel, soap, cotton buds, toothpicks, nail clippers and some lotion for the scars on Daniel’s wrists.
They were promised a bath later in the day, so they waited to change their clothes.
Then another man appeared in the doorway and motioned for them to follow him. Daniel bent down to pick up his blindfold and handcuffs from the floor.
‘No, no, you’re free now,’ the man said. ‘Just take your things and come with me.’
Daniel lifted the plastic bags containing toiletries and clothes and stepped out into the light. His fear disappeared immediately. The soft afternoon sun streamed out to meet him and he could see the outside world, the sand-coloured buildings, a gate, a street with two men on a motorcycle, a checkpoint with armed men. He suddenly felt that he had forgotten something - his keys or his wallet, which he always double-checked before he left home. Then he laughed at himself.
A young and slightly fat man asked Daniel to get into his four-wheel drive, while Toni was shown a place where he could take a bath. Daniel looked around him from the back seat. A few older men in tunics were drinking tea on the other side of the street and a man with a long beard was talking to the driver. They laughed and the man looked at Daniel, who looked down. Toni soon came back and the scent of soap permeated the car.
‘The water isn’t very good here. You’ll get a bath later,’ they promised Daniel.
As they drove off, Daniel looked at the small shops along the road, at the people out shopping, and at the dry, brown fields that stretched to the Turkish border. Life had obviously been going on as usual during the thirteen months he had been in captivity. It was only inside him that everything had changed.
The driver said he had also driven an Italian with a full beard and two aid workers from Médecins Sans Frontières.
‘Cool guys,’ he remarked, before continuing, ‘You will always be welcome to come back to the Islamic State. You just need a press permit. We have nothing against journalists as long as we know who you are. If you don’t have one, we have to arrest you.’
They had reached the outskirts of the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad, where small farms lay spread out over green fields. A shepherd was crossing the road with his animals.
‘Dawlah has taken control here,’ said the driver, meaning ISIS. ‘We’re much bigger than you think. You’ll get a shock when you see how powerful we are.’
They arrived at a building on the border; there were bullet holes in the walls and it was in the process of being renovated; some men were outside watering the plants. Once inside, Daniel signed what appeared to be informal exit papers, before being shown upstairs, where he took a short bath and rubbed lotion on the scars on his wrists.
Although the clothes in the bag had been bought in large sizes, the tight green shirt didn’t cover his stomach and the underpants were too small, so his penis hung out under the heavy, olive-coloured trousers he’d been given.
Toni and Daniel sat for a few hours in a waiting room with a fridge and some heavy furniture. While they were waiting, the driver showed them a BBC graphic on his mobile, showing how far the caliphate had spread in the past year. Daniel could see that ISIS had increased its territory from Raqqa and northern Syria across the border into Iraq, where they now held Mosul.
‘The caliphate is a well-functioning society under the rule of law,’ the driver said. ‘We aren’t as bad as people think. Send an email next time you want to come to Syria.’ He followed them out into the foyer, where another young man with glasses received them.
The man asked about James Foley, about whether or not he was still alive, because he had heard rumours that he was dead. Daniel was then asked to write down the names of those hostages who he knew were still in captivity, before he and Toni were taken outside.
It was pitch-black along the border. Daniel could hear the cicadas as he walked over to a large car park near the border fence. The only thing he could see ahead was a military truck with some Turkish soldiers. The yellow glow from the border lights illuminated the soldiers, who jumped into a car as soon as they had let Daniel through a gate. He had thought a million times about this moment, where each step took him a few more inches away from all the horrible things he had been subjected to during his captivity.
In this instant, his mind was empty. He was caught in a void between what had recently been the constant fear of death, and now, life and the ordinary thoughts that he could look forward to. The transition happened during the few hundred yards it took to reach the Turkish border police. Then he was struck by a practical thought: would he have to try to find a flight home or would there be someone to meet him?
The Turkish guards invited Daniel, Toni and the Syrian who had accompanied them across the border into the border post, where police officers were busy watching a World Cup match between Colombia and the Ivory Coast. They sat down on a sofa and joined them. At one point an advertising banner rolled across the screen. For the first time in more than a year Daniel heard music with drums and guitar, while a sexy woman ran along a beach.
‘Daniel, would you like to borrow my mobile?’ asked the Syrian thoughtfully.
Daniel hadn’t given a single thought to being able to call home. He hurried outside and stood under a canopy beneath the starry Turkish sky. On 19 June at 8.37 p.m. he dialled his mother’s mobile number and heard her pick up the phone.
‘Hi Mum, it’s Daniel.’