Death in the Desert - The ISIS Hostage (2016)

The ISIS Hostage (2016)

Death in the Desert

Daniel dragged the bed from the small bedroom in the summer house into the living room, where the large windows let the sunlight flood in. Now and again, he went out on to the terrace and smoked a cigarette to soothe the restless quivering in his body. Otherwise, he spent most of his time in front of the computer, where he immersed himself in war documentaries such as Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Taxi to the Dark Side (about Afghan prisoners in US prisons) or Dirty Wars, about America’s secret wars. He was constantly looking for stories and films about the region in which he had been held captive.

Every evening before going to bed he checked the latest news about ISIS, which was now also going by the name, the so called Islamic State or IS.

In early July 2014 Daniel stumbled on a video circulating on the Internet in which IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in public for the first time. Dressed in black robes and a turban, he went up the steps of the pulpit in the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul. The voluminous beard on his broad face had smatterings of grey. Young men in short-sleeved shirts stood facing Baghdadi and the black-and-white IS flag hanging on the mosque wall.

Before Friday prayers Baghdadi gave a speech about the Islamic caliphate, which now stretched across Syria from Aleppo to Raqqa, and from there eastwards into northern Iraq through Mosul and to the north-eastern province of Diyala. Al-Baghdadi had been appointed the ‘Caliph’, the supreme leader of the caliphate, and appearing in public in the middle of Mosul was a sign of defiance to the outside world. The driver in Syria who had shown Daniel a graphic of the IS areas was right: they had taken control.

When Daniel finally fell asleep, he dreamed the same dream over and over again, in which he had been kidnapped and thrown into a dark room. And when he opened his eyes in the morning, his first thought was about how James and the others were getting on in the Quarry in Raqqa.

At that time he didn’t know that the hostages had been moved. It was only months later that it became public knowledge that, at around 2 a.m. on 4 July, US elite forces in Black Hawk helicopters had flown over the border to Raqqa to free the hostages. FBI agents had spoken to some of the released hostages to locate the site where they were being detained south-east of Raqqa.

According to an anonymous American Special Operations officer, who later spoke to The New Yorker, two armed drones had circled over the area in the middle of the desert while the operation was carried out. There was a gun battle and several IS fighters were killed, but there were no hostages in the building. The elite forces unit found traces of them, but it wasn’t surprising that the hostages had been moved sixteen days after the release of Daniel and Toni. It was a tactic the Beatles used deliberately. They knew that those who had been released would be questioned by their countries’ intelligence services. While Daniel had been in captivity the guards had twice faked moving the hostages, so that those freed would return home with incorrect information.

That failed mission was the first and only attempt to rescue James and his countrymen, Steven and Peter, together with their British fellow prisoners, John, David and Alan.

In the beginning Daniel was so restless that he took trips into town and began focusing on getting started with his photography again, but he soon had to admit that he couldn’t cope with too many impressions or experiences. Being with a lot of people who didn’t know his history made him feel drained. He felt that they were pointing at him and that he had to explain to them over and over again what he had been through.

‘How terrible,’ they said, looking at him as if he were sick.

For this reason, he usually stuck to smaller groups of people, where he didn’t need to explain himself, like when he and his old friends from boarding school sailed to an island for a few days where they could just hang out and drink beer.

He flinched when someone knocked on the door or slapped a hand against a table to emphasize a point during a conversation. He recoiled if a well-meaning person happened to take hold of his wrist or touch his ribs, or when his parents embraced him as if he were a child. They obviously tried to hold back, as they had been told to, so as not to go overboard with love and affection, but at times Susanne and Kjeld felt an almost morbid concern for their son.

When Daniel needed to talk, he called his psychologist, the one who had met him in Turkey. It was going to take a while for him to return to a normal life.

In early August, in an attempt to get back into the routines of daily life, Daniel took the train out to Hillerød to visit his old college, where he had learned photography. They had offered him a room and the opportunity to teach a photography course. He needed to be somewhere where it was once more only about photography.

While he sat on the train he read a news item: President Barack Obama had announced that the Americans were going to bomb IS in Iraq. After the capture of Mosul and the declaration of a united caliphate across the Iraq−Syria border, IS had moved forwards in a significant offensive in several places in Iraq and for a moment had even threatened Baghdad.

Daniel looked around. There was a mother with a crying child and a young couple who were holding hands. For them it was just a matter-of-fact news update, as it would have been for him no more than a year and a half earlier. But he knew that the president’s announcement about bombing Iraq could cost the lives of people he knew.

While he sat there on the train, somewhere between Copenhagen and Hillerød, he lost all hope for James and the other remaining hostages. Obama’s political decision was a death sentence. He grabbed his mobile and called Pierre.

‘Have you heard?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ replied Pierre.

They didn’t need to say anything else.

· * ·

The United States was drawn back to the war zone in Iraq less than three years after its forces had left the country at the end of 2011, following a lengthy campaign that began in 2003. The first bombings by American aircraft took place on 8 August 2014. Obama had prided himself on having ended the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now the Americans were back at the invitation of the Iraqi government and a failed army that needed help. The Kurds’ otherwise effective defences in northern Iraq had also been overrun several times. Moreover, Mosul, which IS had captured, wasn’t far from the Kurdish capital of Erbil.

The American military presence could also be interpreted as a tidying-up campaign following the recent war. The United States had itself played a role in creating the leader of the organization that they were now bombing, when Baghdadi had been held in their prison at Camp Bucca. Beyond that, the long-standing US policy failure regarding the Ba’ath Party and the Iraqi army had added fuel to the flames, which were fanned by the Shia Party’s exclusionary policy towards the country’s Sunni Muslims.

There were now several former Saddam supporters at the head of the IS leadership. At the same time the Sunni insurgency and the Shia rulers had both effectively marginalized anyone outside their own sect in the struggle for power that had pushed Iraq over the edge.

The Americans wanted to eliminate IS in Iraq, to which the Islamists responded promptly. IS was going to take revenge on President Obama and his policies in the Middle East.

· * ·

Arthur walked around restlessly, thinking about the wording of the next message to be sent. After a long silence, James’s family had finally received an email from the kidnappers. It was 12 August, just four days after US planes began bombing IS in Iraq.

On the basis of the email, Arthur judged that it had to have come from the same people who had previously written to the Foley family and to Daniel’s parents. The email contained a message to the US government and the family that they would kill James as a consequence of the bombs raining down on Iraq. It didn’t sound like either an attempt at extortion or an aggressive proposal for negotiations. It just sounded like a statement of fact, thought Arthur. Yet the family had to try to persuade the kidnappers to change their minds.

IS had succeeded in illustrating the difference between the European approach to hostage negotiations and the usual position of the United States and the United Kingdom, which was also why Arthur couldn’t do anything. In Daniel’s case, he had had a free hand to act without government interference.

In James’s case, the US authorities had been trying to bulldoze the investigation and had wasted valuable time looking for James in Damascus; and when there had finally been an opportunity in December 2013, the family had nothing to negotiate with, because they weren’t allowed to pay - or collect money for - a ransom.

Arthur feared the worst, in which case James would be the first hostage he had ever lost in his career.

· * ·

While in the United States they were battling for James’s life, Daniel was settling into his seat on a plane to Paris. He was going to meet Pierre. They wanted to drive around England and Scotland together for a month. It was going to be just the two of them - along with the shared experience that only they could fully understand. Daniel was also looking forward to seeing Pierre in the surroundings he had talked so much about during his captivity, rather than as a hostage with a grey blindfold hanging around his neck, waiting for a cell door to be flung open.

At the airport Daniel came out into the arrival hall and immediately spotted Pierre, who was standing slightly back, behind the other people waiting. They gave each other a long hug.

He was the same as ever, in a thick black jacket, black jeans and leather shoes. His hair was shorter and he had shaved off his beard.

They drove to a house where some of Pierre’s anarchist friends lived and spent the night in the garage. The next day, they took the train to his parents’ house north-west of Paris, on the roaring river just outside the city of Rouen.

Pierre’s mother picked them up in a car with their dog Olaf, who always came for the ride. She drove them along narrow roads until they turned down a dirt track at the end of which stood Pierre’s childhood home. Olaf was jumping up around their legs as they made their way to Pierre’s father, who was waiting in the living room. Daniel could speak neither French nor Spanish, so Pierre translated during a dinner of delicious French food that his mother had prepared.

Pierre’s world was exactly as he had described it in prison. His father’s sculptures towered above Daniel’s head as he came into the workshop, where tools and gadgets were scattered between metal formations that looked like a mixture of animals and humans. There was an old boat and some rusty motorcycles that Pierre wanted to refurbish, and in the shed behind the house was Tonton the donkey.

‘I felt bad about leaving you all,’ Pierre told Daniel when the conversation turned to their captivity.

He still felt it was wrong to be bought out of the hands of the Islamists.

‘The worst thing is that I accepted it,’ said Pierre. ‘I wasn’t a human being any more, but an object that could be sold.’ After his return Pierre had agreed to illustrate a children’s book that he and their fellow former prisoner Nicolas Hénin were writing. It was about a daddy hedgehog who disappeared from his hedgehog family.

Pierre and Daniel spent a couple of days preparing for their trip. They furnished the silver car with mattresses and a nifty device that enabled them to fold down the seats and flip open a bed in the back.

Before they headed for the ferry to England, they first made a stop farther south at a French farm to attend Nicolas Hénin’s wedding. Daniel drove, because Pierre had no driver’s licence. When they finally reached the farm and the lawn where the wedding was to be held, they met a happy Nicolas dressed in jacket and tie.

‘Hi Daniel, welcome! How good it is to see you,’ he said, smiling, before quickly moving on to welcome the other guests, including correspondents and journalists from around the world.

Pierre and Daniel had been assigned a room in the farmhouse where they could spend the night, while other guests slept in tents. When the party and the music shut down at around 1 a.m. Daniel rushed up to the bartender, who was about to pack up, and asked him to leave them a few bottles of wine. He carried them up to the room, where he and Pierre sat on the floor and laughed, joked and drank. They consumed so much wine that Pierre got drunk for the first time in his life. When they woke the next morning, 17 August, with throbbing headaches, Daniel started laughing again.

‘You just made it before you turned thirty. Happy birthday, my dear Pierre.’

· * ·

Late in the evening on 19 August Arthur opened the door to his hotel room in London. He had been to a series of meetings and threw his computer bag on the bed and checked his phone. There was a message from one of his contacts in Syria.

It was a question: ‘Have you seen the video with James?’

There were also several missed calls from his security colleagues in the United States. Arthur immediately called back.

‘I’ll send you the link,’ his associate said. ‘It’s a video. I think they’ve killed him.’

‘OK, I’ll take a look and call you back in a minute,’ replied Arthur. He fished his computer out of his bag and hurried to download the video from YouTube before it could be censored.

A picture appeared with someone who looked like James Foley in an orange prison uniform kneeling in a desert. Beside him stood a black-clad, masked man with a knife in his hand and a gun in a holster. The video was entitled ‘A Message to America’.

James recited some clearly rehearsed phrases. It was a political message to his government: ‘I call on my friends, family and loved ones to rise up against my real killers, the US government,’ began James. ‘For what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency and criminality. My message to my beloved parents: save me some dignity and don’t accept any meagre compensation for my death from the same people who effectively put the last nail in my coffin with the recent aerial campaign in Iraq.’

He spoke to his brother John, who should think about whether those who had decided to go to war against IS had thought about him and his family.

‘I guess, all in all, I wish I wasn’t American,’ he concluded.

Then the black executioner took over as he put a hand on James’s shoulder.

‘As a government you have been at the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic State. You have plotted against us and gone far out of your way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs.’

The executioner proclaimed that an attack on IS was an attack on Muslims all over the world.

‘So any attempt by you, Obama, to deny Muslims their rights to live in safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.’

The executioner brought the knife up against James’s neck. At that moment, the video went black and the next thing Arthur saw was an orange-clad body laid out on its stomach, the head placed between the shoulder blades.

Arthur played the video three to four times and tried to focus on his task: to analyse what he was watching. He noted the way the film was edited. At the moment of execution, it went black. Could they have faked the killing? Was the decapitated head really James’s? Why didn’t IS want to show the actual moment of death? Was it out of respect? Was it because it would be too triumphant, or had they learned from the 2004 video of Kenneth Bigley, which frightened off al-Qaeda support?

Arthur played the video in slow motion, frame by frame, to interpret James’s facial expressions and body language, as the knife met his neck, and compared it with other images he had of James. It didn’t look like a fake. It looked like a murder.

For Arthur, it was the tragic culmination of nearly two years of searching. It was now clearly all over. A heaviness weighed on Arthur’s mind. James’s family had believed that he could do the same for James as he had done for Daniel.

He took a deep breath and called his colleague in the United States.

‘I’m not in any doubt about it. It’s James. He’s dead.’

They talked about the strongly worded appeal addressed to James’s brother, who was in the US Air Force, and to his family about not accepting a meagre compensation from the US government.

‘If we’re going to do anything to retrieve the body, we have to move fast. You must ask the family if they want us to try,’ said Arthur. If that were the case, he would quickly get hold of his contacts in Syria. ‘I have to run. There’s someone I have to talk to as soon as possible, so that he doesn’t get the news another way,’ Arthur said and hung up.

Then he dialled Daniel’s number.

· * ·

It was dark and the English country road twisted in front of Daniel and Pierre as they sat shrouded in music inside the car. They had taken the ferry from Calais to Dover, where they had driven ashore and were now heading towards a small town that was lit up in the distance.

Daniel loved the tranquillity that oozed out of the nerdy marine biologist when he held long, enthusiastic monologues about fish and water fleas. Pierre was the sort of person who would never buy a smartphone and was completely satisfied with his little old flip phone.

Suddenly the ring tone from Daniel’s iPhone interrupted Pierre’s speech. He could see on the display that it was Arthur.

‘Do you have time to talk? I have a message,’ said Arthur.

‘I’m driving,’ said Daniel.

‘Then pull over,’ said Arthur.

Daniel could immediately tell that Arthur sounded different and that he hadn’t said, ‘What’s up, you idiot?’ or fired off a stream of jokes.

Daniel hung up while he found a place to pull in and turn off the engine. Pierre looked at him.

‘Why are we stopping here?’

‘It’s Arthur. Something’s happened,’ said Daniel and rang Arthur back.

Arthur’s voice sounded heavy.

‘A video has just been made public. It shows James in an orange prison uniform in a desert, where he is being killed by a masked man.’

‘No! How?’

‘Yes, well, that’s it - he was decapitated.’

Daniel stiffened.

‘I have more bad news,’ continued Arthur. ‘They showed Steven afterwards. He’s the next in line.’ Daniel thought about his old prison companion, whom he had wrapped up in a blanket in December when he had been Steven’s Secret Santa.

Daniel was beside himself. It was unbearable to think of James’s brutal murder, and the fact that Steven had been forced to witness the killing, after which he would have to sit in a cell, knowing he would be next. His worst fears had become reality.

‘I knew it could happen,’ said Daniel quietly. ‘That’s the way things were going.’

‘I need your help,’ said Arthur.

He wanted to send Daniel the video.

‘Could you listen and hear if it’s James’s voice?’ asked Arthur. He wanted to get a clear confirmation or denial as to whether it was actually James.

‘You just have to listen while he speaks. Stop the video after that,’ warned Arthur.

Daniel hung up, his eyes empty. Pierre stared at him expectantly.

‘They’ve beheaded James,’ said Daniel. ‘Steven is next.’

Pierre’s eyes welled with tears and Daniel reminded him of the terrible last days in prison, when the Beatles had been agitated, violent and obnoxious. Everyone had sensed that it could end this way.

They got out of the car, unfolded a small camp table and sat around it. Daniel connected his computer to the mobile’s network and downloaded the file Arthur had sent. In the darkness, they watched James in silence as he knelt in an orange suit in the middle of the desert, while he spouted what he had been told to say. It was James. Daniel and Pierre were in no doubt; the voice, the torso and his characteristic underbite.

‘I think I recognize the landscape,’ said Pierre. It looked like James was standing on a mound in the desert, where the Euphrates River, some green areas and the outlines of an urban environment were just visible behind him. It could be Raqqa.

They let the video play and watched the black figure standing with a knife in his hand beside James.

‘It’s John!’ exclaimed Pierre, as the executioner began to speak.

He recognized his accent, his posture and his rhetoric - the way he put pressure on individual words: ‘YOUR government.’

Daniel called Arthur back.

‘There’s no doubt. It’s James,’ he said. ‘And the executioner is one of our British guards. Probably John.’

James’s voice on the video was echoing inside his head. So was John’s.

‘Let’s find a place to stay,’ said Daniel.

They drove into a small rest area near some woodland. The air was damp as they arranged themselves on mattresses in the back of the car, where they also found a few cans of beer. Daniel called Arthur again and put the phone on speaker.

‘Hello Pierre, hope you’re OK,’ said Arthur.

They agreed to hold a minute’s silence for James. The rain drops were dribbling down the car windows. In that one minute the world shrank to just the two of them on a mattress as they sheltered from the rain, with a silent Arthur at the other end, somewhere in London. Daniel and Pierre stared into the distance and remembered the man they had shared a cell with for eight months; the man who so often sacrificed himself in order to be the best for others. Now he had finally found peace. The one minute became several, in which they stayed on the line without uttering a word. Arthur finally broke the silence.

‘Since you both had to receive such bad news, it’s good that you’re together to share it with each other and vent your frustrations,’ he said.

Arthur knew it would be natural for Daniel to feel shame that he had survived when James had not. Questions like ‘Why him and not me?’ were bound to come up. The typical response from an outsider would be: ‘Well, you’re lucky it wasn’t you.’ But for the survivor, that was exactly what they didn’t need to hear.

‘Just call if you need to talk,’ said Arthur. ‘Me or the psychologist.’

When the conversation was over, Daniel and Pierre went online to see how the story about James’s death was being reported. There were items with judgmental reactions about the killing and photos from James’s life and work in Syria, which were put up as a response to the execution. The newspapers were soon calling John ‘Jihadi John’, because they had found out that the hostages in the cell had named him John. The nightmare in the desert haunted Daniel’s restless sleep that night.

The next morning they drove towards London. On the way they tried to figure out if their plan would still hold. The original idea was to visit Alan’s and David’s families to talk to them about the good times in captivity and give them encouragement, but both families cancelled the visit after James’s murder. Pierre was relieved; there was nothing positive to say. Instead they drove north towards the wide open spaces of Scotland to be alone with themselves and each other.

· * ·

Since Daniel had returned home and was living in the summer house it had been a difficult time in Hedegård. Susanne and Kjeld walked around on tenterhooks, trying to gauge how Daniel was really feeling. At Christina’s graduation party in the garage he was bouncing off the walls. Many of the guests had been nervous about meeting Daniel. ‘What shall we say? How does he look?’ they had asked Susanne.

He behaved like a helium balloon that would fly away if they didn’t hold on to him. Beyond that, he was almost over-caring and kept asking everyone how they were, instead of looking after himself. At the same time, Daniel didn’t feel up to the small, practical things, such as getting a new online security ID, a health card and driver’s licence. Kjeld helped by driving him around to different government agencies. Daniel was granted two months’ social security benefits before he began teaching photography at Grundtvig College.

Kjeld and Susanne thought he had changed, although he retained his upbeat attitude. Whenever they asked him how he was, the answer was always ‘fine’. Nevertheless, they were concerned if they didn’t hear from him, and Tina Enghoff, his teacher before he went to Syria, also sensed a darkness in her formerly enthusiastic student. The story of Daniel’s suicide attempt was always at the back of Susanne’s mind and it took some time before she could process her own emotional journey.

On top of everything, the family had a debt of just under a million kroner to deal with. The total expenses in connection with Daniel’s kidnapping had amounted to more than 22 million kroner (almost €3 million or £2 million). The insurance had covered 5 million kroner (about £500,000) of it and other insurance policies had also kept the family’s expenses to a minimum. But Susanne and Kjeld wouldn’t be at peace until the entire debt was paid off.

Nevertheless, they had been released from the iron grip of terror that had held them for more than a year. They no longer needed to fear the next email or the next telephone call, and slowly everyday life returned to Hedegård.

· * ·

In autumn 2014 Denmark became involved in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq, along with the United States. On 2 October 2014 seven Danish F-16s, in collaboration with a broad coalition of countries, flew from a base in Kuwait to bomb IS positions in Iraq. In coordination with the bombing from the air, Iraqi forces attacked IS on the ground.

The Danish government led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt also decided to send a team of soldiers to the Ayn al-Asad base in western Anbar province to train Iraqi forces. This was the very same base where former US President George W. Bush gave a speech in 2007 to the US military, who had fought the most tenacious insurgency of the Iraq War.

‘Anbar is a huge province that was once written off as lost, but is now one of the safest places,’ he proclaimed at the time.

When the Danish soldiers arrived at the base seven years later, that statement was no longer true, since it had now fallen under the control of Islamic State. The soldiers being trained were the dilapidated remnants of the Iraqi army, which had previously received training and equipment from the West. The army was now being helped mainly by Iranian-backed Shiite militias, whose goals were often just as sectarian as IS and who also committed atrocities against civilians. At the same time, then Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki mobilized the so-called People’s Army, made up of thousands of young male volunteers who received only a few weeks of training before they were sent to the battlefield. The establishment of the People’s Army and the influence of powerful Shiite militias meant that Iraq was being driven further in the direction of a divided, violent and sectarian society that could push even more Sunnis into the arms of IS.

It was in the midst of this chaos that Denmark and its allies were trying to exert their influence. It had always been impossible to intervene in Iraq without simultaneously exacerbating the underlying causes that made it possible for IS to thrive. The Iraq War in the 2000s had made one thing abundantly clear: the coalition would in all likelihood be flying over Iraq for a long time with no guarantee that it would stabilize the country or eradicate Islamic State.

· * ·

The evening when the video of James was made public, Arthur had also sent a text message to Diane Foley. He wasn’t at all sure whether it was the right thing to do. He didn’t know what the authorities had told them and he hadn’t wanted to be the first to commiserate on what was only circumstantial evidence, even though everything indicated that James was dead. Even so, he had written to Diane that his thoughts were with the family and the following day, after several attempts, he finally got through to her.

She had been receptive and happy that he had called.

‘You helped give us hope to the last, and for that we will be eternally grateful to you,’ she said.

She had invited Arthur to take part in James’s memorial service and now he was sitting with Daniel on their way to New Hampshire. He wanted to pay his respects to James and to show the family he was thinking of them - and, along with Daniel, close a chapter of their lives that had lasted more than two years.

He was happy to have freed Daniel from captivity, but he was just as sad that he had ‘lost’ James, as it was called in his line of work. Not a day went by when he didn’t think about whether he could have done things differently and if there had been openings along the way that he had overlooked. He wondered if it could have ended another way if he had had the same influence on James’s case as he had had on Daniel’s, and not just followed the decisions that the US authorities had mapped out. He didn’t know the answer.

Arthur was nervous about how he would be received - if the family would direct their frustration and anger at him. The easiest thing for him to do would have been to stay away from the memorial service and remain as a negotiator, the role for which he had been hired. In his field it was considered neither professional nor beneficial to get emotional about the work. But as a human being, Arthur needed to look James’s parents in the eyes and share their grief. So did Daniel, who hadn’t yet allowed the murder of James to sink in completely. He and Pierre had relaxed and talked about it together in Scotland, but he hadn’t wept. It still seemed unreal to him that his former fellow prisoner had been killed.

After James, the first to have his throat cut, it didn’t take long before Daniel saw the next video. The Beatles had unfortunately kept the promise they made in the video of James: that Steven Sotloff would be the next, despite his mother in the United States making a public video appeal to spare her son’s life.

Less than two weeks after Steven was executed, it was David Haines’s turn. He left behind a wife and two children at home in Britain. And on 3 October Alan Henning was killed; he didn’t make it home to his wife and their two children either. The only relief Daniel felt was that he knew they had found peace; the worst thing for him was the uncertainty about what would happen to the final two male hostages, John and Peter. It felt right to be on a plane beside Arthur on his way to say goodbye.

· * ·

Arthur steered the car through the forests, while Daniel chose music to listen to on his iPhone that reminded him of James. They stopped at a Starbucks, where Daniel bought a pumpkin spice latte before they rolled up in front of the family’s white house.

Daniel went in first and was received in the Foley family’s kitchen, where the whole family was gathered. He got a long hug from Diane, who showed him round and introduced him to the family. When Arthur appeared in the doorway, he got the same reception.

‘He’s the one who tried to get Jim home,’ said Diane.

In Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Rochester, Arthur and Daniel sat next to each other in the pews. Arthur looked at Daniel, who was in tears. He placed a hand on his shoulder and passed him a handkerchief.

One of history’s most notorious kidnapping cases ended here for them. While Arthur sat next to Daniel, he tried to come to terms with the fact that he had managed to save one but not the other. More than anything else, he wished he could have reunited them somewhere other than at a memorial service.

· * ·

Two days later in the predawn darkness, Daniel and Arthur drove off towards Boston. The sun was just rising above the horizon as they walked out on a headland near a coastal fort. The dark grey cliffs rose up from the Atlantic Ocean like jagged, inflexible monsters. They walked past signs saying ‘DANGER’ and ‘NO SWIMMING’, while they clambered over the rock formations. The fresh wind threw the cool ocean air against their faces and they shivered in their overcoats.

Daniel looked out over the water. He didn’t hold a grudge against the people who had tortured him and killed his fellow prisoners. The hatred that governed their actions came from somewhere: either from the way their lives had turned out in the Middle East, where they had grown up in lawless states and under dictatorships that treated their citizens far worse than he had been treated; or in Europe, where the Beatles didn’t accept what they saw as the hypocrisy of the western democracies, and instead used violence, terror and oppression to get their message across.

He had been one small pawn among many in a big political game in which the Islamic State was able to play a role because Iraq and Syria had collapsed, and because western countries had interfered, using methods that weren’t perceived as a democratic alternative. He found it easier to forgive than to be angry and filled with hatred. Daniel jumped from one damp rock to another.

‘I can just see the headline!’ shouted Arthur. ‘“Former hostage killed on rocks in New Hampshire under supervision of security expert.”’

They laughed at Arthur’s bad joke.

‘Let’s take a dip,’ suggested Daniel.

The waves were beating against the rocks and there was an undertow that threatened to sweep them out to sea and engulf them. They walked around the headland and found a place where the water was calmer.

Then they stripped off their clothes and dived in.