Syria Round Trip - The ISIS Hostage (2016)

The ISIS Hostage (2016)

Syria Round Trip

On a curb near the central roundabout in Raqqa three men sat in a row, blindfolded. An ISIS-fighter was looking at them, while speaking into a megaphone from a white police pickup. An armed man stood on the bed of the truck. Masked fighters were walking around the square with black ISIS flags, while civilians gathered in front of a kiosk with Coca-Cola signs to see what was going on. Some people were filming with their mobiles.

Attention was being paid to the three men in the middle, who, according to the speaker, belonged to the Alawite sect, like President Assad. When he finished speaking, the three men were shot in the back of the neck with a pistol, dying instantly. Several shots were fired, making the lifeless bodies on the asphalt jump with each bullet, until the fighters turned their weapons towards the sky and shot at random, shouting ‘Allahu akbar! God is the greatest!’

The footage from the eyewitnesses’ mobile phones was posted online on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 and demonstrated for the first time the methods used by ISIS in Raqqa, where they now had so much power that they could shoot people without trial in the middle of an open square.

That same day, Daniel tried to enter Syria.

When he landed in Gaziantep on the previous evening, he drove towards the border town of Kilis as planned and found a hotel to stay in overnight. The next morning he took a taxi to the border where he had arranged to meet his fixer, Mahmoud.

But the plans for the trip were beginning to fall apart. Mahmoud didn’t answer his phone. Daniel tried to find him at the border crossing among a mass of refugees who were wandering around with blankets, pots and children in their arms. The staff at the Syrian Media Centre at the border post refused to let him go on, unless he could produce a letter confirming he was a photographer.

When he couldn’t find his fixer, Daniel drove back to Kilis and had to wait until late in the day before Mahmoud rang him.

‘I can’t go to Syria with you as agreed, but call my friend Ahmed. He’ll come with a colleague, so you can talk it all through,’ was his rather vague message.

In the meantime, Daniel got the necessary letter from a French photo agency and edited a travel video in his hotel room. The film began above the clouds during the flight to Turkey. He called his video diary ‘Syria Round Trip’ and he sent it home to Signe.

‘My name is Daniel Rye,’ he told the camera. ‘I’m twenty-four years old and right now I’m on a layover in Istanbul eating chips. I’m on my way with my camera to Syria to document the lives of the people who live surrounded by war.’

He had also filmed the drive towards the border. Wearing sunglasses, he said, ‘Now I’m standing at the border crossing between Turkey and Syria, near Kilis. I was very nervous about whether it was at all possible, but now all the pieces have fallen into place. Let’s go.’

But the pieces hadn’t quite fallen into place and he filmed the last scene while lying in bed.

‘Yes, well … now I’m lying here in a hotel room in Kilis. Now we have to see if I can succeed tomorrow. Otherwise, it’s a load of crap. It’s just a load of craaap.’

The round table at the outdoor café wobbled on the uneven asphalt of the terrace. Daniel ordered a cup of thick Turkish coffee and lit a cigarette, while restlessly looking through his sunglasses at the cars that drove past in the narrow street, swirling up the dust. It was Thursday morning, 16 May, and the new fixer, Ahmed, arrived at the café on time, along with a woman named Aya. They presented themselves to Daniel and sat down in the rickety metal chairs.

Ahmed had long, greasy, black hair, spoke energetically about how possible the whole trip was and invited Daniel to his wedding in a few months.

‘I can arrange the trip. I’ve done it many times before, and I’m good at it,’ announced Ahmed, in a way that Daniel thought was a little too cocky.

He preferred Aya, who looked like she was around his own age. She spent most of the time listening with a serious expression on her face. Her eyes were heavily made up with pencilled eyebrows, and a white scarf covered her hair. She was wearing tight, black trousers that followed the soft curves of her hips and a long black cardigan, which hung over them. Her bare feet were tucked into a pair of flat and rather impractical sandals by comparison with Daniel’s leather boots. She said she was a nurse and had lived in Aleppo, but she had fled from the war after she had narrowly escaped being put in a regime prison.

Daniel thought to himself that, as a nurse, she must be good at first aid, and that women were by nature probably a little more careful than men.

‘I can take you to Aleppo,’ she suggested to Daniel and told him that she had been part of the revolution against Assad from the beginning and had gone to Aleppo with journalists several times.

‘No, I’m not interested in the war as such,’ said Daniel. ‘I’d really like to meet the people who are surviving. My plan is to go to Azaz.’ Aya spoke good English and that made him feel secure.

‘We can easily meet people in Azaz who are trying to survive,’ she said. They agreed that Aya would take Daniel from Turkey to the Syrian border town.

He went back to his hotel, charged the batteries for his camera and checked out of his room, after which they drove towards the border.

Just before they reached the border crossing, Aya asked him to get out of the car. She wanted to drive on alone and cross the border illegally somewhere nearby, while he was standing in the interminable queue of Syrians.

When the Turks had put an exit stamp on his passport, he walked the half-mile or so along the asphalt between the Turkish and Syrian border posts. He had his square, leather bag on his back with all the essentials: sleeping bag, first-aid kit, camera and computer. The bullet-proof vest and helmet were in a separate bag.

At the Syrian border post, rebels dressed in camouflage and multi-pocket vests and carrying loaded Kalashnikovs walked around among the refugees living in a makeshift camp nearby. The border-control post amounted to a small shed, where Daniel showed his photographer documentation and was given permission to enter Syria. Aya was waiting for him near the shed, as agreed, but she wasn’t alone. Beside her stood a balding, elderly man dressed in a grey shirt and trousers.

‘Who’s he?’ asked Daniel.

‘He’s from the Free Syrian Army and he’s going to drive us to Azaz,’ said Aya.

They got into the old man’s car. Daniel was sitting in the front passenger seat, next to an assault rifle, which he noticed had the stock downwards and the barrel pointing at Aya sitting in the back.

‘Can’t he point the gun somewhere else?’ asked Daniel uneasily, but Aya didn’t translate what he said and the barrel remained pointing straight at her.

Arabic music flowed out of the car speakers as they drove past goatherds and through small villages. Daniel took a picture of the white-and-brown goats crossing the road in front of them. Then he looked up at the sky. The sun was still shining, but dark-blue thunder clouds were on the horizon across the golden fields dotted with whitewashed houses.

They must have made a detour on the way to Azaz, because they suddenly drove into a farm, where they were served a metal bowl filled with food, which they ate while sat on the floor in the living room.

‘It’s great to get something to eat, but that wasn’t our agreement,’ Daniel said to Aya while they ate. ‘I’d like to go straight from point A to point B.’

He was remembering Arthur’s advice to avoid being seen by too many people and not to drive around the area at random.

‘Yes, I know, but the driver insisted that we had to have something to eat,’ she replied patiently and referred to Syrian hospitality, which was often at odds with security advice.

Outside, one of the residents of the house was climbing a plum tree. Daniel took photos of the man sitting on a branch, shaking the bitter green plums on to the ground; the man gave them a bagful for the trip to Azaz.

When they reached the outskirts of town, they stopped beside two brothers who stood with their doves at the roadside. Their father used to sell vegetables, they said, but now there was more money to be made selling bricks and cement to rebuild bombed houses, should anyone dare to bet on a future in Azaz.

‘Why do you have the doves?’ asked Daniel.

Aya translated.

‘Because birds are free,’ said the boys.

Daniel wrote it down in his notebook and took some photographs of a flock of white birds against the heavy, ominous sky.

Shortly afterwards, he photographed the town’s ruined mosque. A boy in a Kung Fu Panda T-shirt and his older brother in military trousers were playing in some burned-out military vehicles. Others were busy removing valuable copper wiring from an armoured vehicle.

A hairdresser’s was still open, so Daniel and Aya went in and had a nice chat. After fifteen minutes, they said goodbye to the friendly barber. But as they stepped out on to the street, a vehicle suddenly came along at high speed and stopped abruptly in front of them. Daniel took note of the passengers: a group of masked men with Kalashnikovs.

‘Get in the car,’ ordered Aya hurriedly and signalled to him that she would talk to them.

Daniel got in the back seat, while listening to Aya, who was explaining in Arabic. The men asked several questions and seemed so unfriendly and intimidating that Daniel looked down at his feet. Aya could hear that one of the men, the only man not masked, spoke with a Tunisian accent. They asked who she and the blond man were and she explained that they were in Azaz to do stories about the war.

‘What’s going on?’ asked Daniel, when the masked men had finally driven off again.

‘They just wanted to know what we’re doing,’ said Aya.

‘It seemed very intense.’

‘Don’t worry about it. That’s just how Arabs are,’ said Aya, who didn’t seem frightened by the episode.

Daniel was shaken - and so was the driver, apparently, because he didn’t want to continue working with them. Aya called Ayman, a friend who lived in Azaz, and soon afterwards he picked them up and drove them to a bombed-out neighbourhood in the city.

The children were playing in the rubble as the sun was setting. A living room was half blown away. Portraits were still hanging on the wall, and green climbing plants clinging to the shattered outer wall brightened up the scene.

When the sun had gone down and there was no longer enough light for Daniel to take photographs, they bought chicken and Pepsi from the local kebab man and drove home to Ayman’s empty apartment. His wife and two daughters had fled to Turkey, like so many others from the city who weren’t able to maintain a normal life for fear of the fighting and the sporadic bombing from the regime. Ayman also spent most of his time in Turkey, but used the apartment now and then when he was working in Azaz.

There was a sudden power cut and Ayman lit candles in the living room. The artificial flower decorations on the shelves cast shadows against the ceiling, while they sat around the coffee table and ate.

After eating, Daniel, Aya and Ayman climbed up on the roof, from where they could glimpse small flashes of light in the distance. Daniel was told that it came from the fighting that was going on at the air base a few miles outside the city. Up there on the roof, in the darkness, he took a picture of his own shadow on a wall; it was the last photograph he would take in Syria.

Afterwards he drank a cup of tea, while he transferred the day’s images to his hard drive and sent texts home to his father and to Signe, as he had promised. He said that the day had gone well, that he had already taken a lot of photos and that the people were nice.

‘I love you,’ he wrote.

The three of them blew out the candles and Daniel crawled into his sleeping bag on a sofa in the living room. The day’s experiences whirled around in his head, especially the masked men. Who were they? He feared for a moment that they would come round at night, and wondered if he should have tried to get out of Syria after he had been seen. But he calmed himself down. He was being too paranoid. Aya had spoken to them and, if the men had wanted to kidnap him, they would have done it then.

He eventually fell asleep.

· * ·

Kjeld and Susanne were at home in their red-brick house on the Thursday evening when a text message appeared on Kjeld’s mobile. It was the first time ever that Daniel had written ‘I love you’. Signe wrote to them at the same time to say she had received a message that the day in Syria had gone well.

‘We’re sitting in the candlelight drinking tea. It’s just as quiet as Hedegård,’ read Daniel’s message.

If that was true, it must have been really quiet, because the only thing that could be heard outside the windows in Hedegård was the whistling of the wind.

· * ·

Daniel leapt out of his sleeping bag early on Friday morning. He wanted to go outside and take photographs in the soft morning light. Before he went off with Ayman and Aya, he packed a bag with the essentials: camera, passport, wallet and mobile. He left his leather backpack with the sleeping bag, computer and hard drive in the apartment. As there was no fighting in the area, he also left his bulletproof vest and the first-aid kit.

They drove to the city centre, where they met a large family who were fleeing, squeezed into a two-seater pickup. Blankets and mattresses were bulging on the bed of the truck.

‘May I photograph them?’ asked Daniel, but the family didn’t want to be photographed and drove off quickly.

An elderly gentleman walked across the road towards them. ‘You aren’t allowed to film here,’ he said.

The old man told them that they had to have permission to photograph from the local authorities. Daniel looked enquiringly at Aya.

‘Who are the local authorities?’

‘They’re all right. I know them,’ said Aya and she told him that the rebels controlled the area.

She knew where the authorities were and they decided to go there. They cut across a square and stopped in front of a sand-coloured building surrounded by a high wall. Before the rebels had taken control of Azaz, the building had housed the Assad regime’s local council office. They knocked on the black metal gate.

The first thing Daniel saw when the door opened was a boy. At least, his height corresponded to a boy about twelve or thirteen years old, but he couldn’t see his face because a black hood was pulled down over it; he was carrying a gun.

‘What are you doing here?’ asked the youngster.

‘We just need a permit from your superiors,’ said Aya.

They were told to wait in the yard and the boy disappeared into the building. While they were waiting, Daniel took note of the long, unmown grass and wild bushes in the garden. A grey-haired, elderly man in camouflage clothing soon came out into the yard and spoke to Aya in Arabic. His eyes were angry and the rest of his face was devoid of expression.

The boy with the black hood came out again. ‘I need to borrow your camera,’ he said.

Daniel didn’t dare disobey, and he reminded himself that he had downloaded his photos from the day before on to the computer and hard drive, which were in Ayman’s apartment.

Meanwhile, the grey-haired man continued talking to Aya in a tone that was getting faster and louder. Aya was looking down at the tiles in the yard, which made Daniel nervous.

She said she knows them and now she’s staring at the ground. What the hell’s going on? And it also happened yesterday … I certainly won’t use Aya again, she hasn’t got a grip on things, he thought to himself, and he couldn’t help looking at the gun in the grey-haired man’s belt.

Suddenly he began pointing at Daniel, while spewing Arabic at Aya.

This is about me, thought Daniel, and his vision momentarily went black, as if he had been standing too long.

Cold sweat was trickling out under his blue shirt as the grey-haired man motioned for them to go inside. At the entrance, Daniel took off his boots and put them next to a lot of other shoes on a carpet that was laid out over the stone floor.

They were shown into a small, shadowy room with sofas along the wall and a wooden table in the middle. Daniel sat down furthest away from the door next to Aya, while Ayman sat in a corner.

The rebels asked for Daniel’s papers and disappeared with them into an adjoining room, while the old man began questioning him through Aya, who translated. There was also another man on the sofa, who had comically put his glasses on over his black face mask.

‘I’m a photographer from Denmark,’ said Daniel. ‘I’ve come to do a story on how the war is affecting civilian Syrians.’

Ayman was silent and deathly pale, and Daniel had only one thought in his head: If we get out of here, we go back across the border straight away.

A tall, heavily built man entered the room and confronted Aya. He had a scarf wrapped around his face, so Daniel could see only a pair of eyes made up with black eyeliner.

Aya stared stiffly at the floor.

‘They say they don’t believe you, Daniel. They say we’re spies.’

‘But I am who I say I am. I’m a photographer from Denmark, here to portray the war,’ he repeated.

‘He says they know that sensors are put on cars so drones can come and destroy the town,’ translated Aya.

Daniel remained silent and looked away as masked men in tunics and with Kalashnikovs over their shoulders came and went in the living room.

‘Sit properly,’ was the order when Daniel crossed one leg over the other.

Instead, he had to sit with his knees together side by side, while he was presented with new allegations.

‘We’ve checked your camera. You’ve taken many pictures of the places where the fighters live. You’re going around gathering information in the area. Who are you?’

Daniel reiterated who he was.

The grey-haired man then asked Aya to write a long letter by hand. Afterwards, Aya translated to Daniel that they could go back to Turkey when he had signed the letter. A friendly person served him with a cup of tea. For a moment, Daniel had a feeling that they just wanted him out of Azaz. The men chatted casually and laughed as he signed the letter.

‘They say that you have to stand up now,’ said Aya.

Daniel had managed to drink only half of the tea and his fixer seemed nervous.

‘They say that you have to turn around and put your hands behind your back. It’s just normal procedure,’ she reassured him.

Daniel’s head was spinning when he got up and he didn’t have time to respond before his hands were twisted behind his back and handcuffed. Some foreign fingers approached his face, removed his glasses and blindfolded him. There was silence in the room while his wallet, mobile and passport were removed from his pockets. He didn’t resist. Not even when he was led away from Aya and Ayman in the living room and down into a basement, where he was pushed down on to a mattress.

He lay on his side with his arms behind his back as he heard the door being slammed shut and locked. The handcuffs burned his wrists; the blindfold felt tight. He was so afraid that all his thoughts and feelings disappeared.

· * ·

On Friday morning Kjeld and Susanne got up early and Kjeld drove to work. Susanne was going to the hairdresser at 11 a.m. to have her hair done and then on to work in Legoland. Daniel’s younger sister Christina went to her high school.

That evening Kjeld and Susanne were packing to visit some good friends who had a summer cottage on the island of Fanø.

‘I can’t understand why I haven’t heard from Daniel all day!’ said Kjeld.

‘Maybe he’s forgotten to write,’ said Susanne.

Signe was also wondering about the silence. She contacted Kjeld to ask if he had heard anything. Kjeld’s ‘no’ meant there had been no sign of life from Daniel since Thursday evening. At 10.37 p.m. on Friday Signe sent an email to her boyfriend.

‘Would you reply to my mail? I’d really like to hear from you xx.’

When Kjeld and Susanne sailed to Fanø on Saturday morning, they still hadn’t heard anything from Daniel. Kjeld also sent him a message.

Susanne felt a creeping uneasiness, but pushed it away by telling herself she was always getting worried for no reason.

While they took a long walk on the beach and ate lunch, Kjeld was constantly checking his mobile. Susanne tried to convince herself that Daniel was just getting lazy about writing; at any rate, he was out of Syria and on his way home.

But these evasive explanations didn’t help. A knot was forming in her stomach. They tried in vain to call Daniel’s mobile and they called Signe, who hadn’t heard anything from him either. Nevertheless, she would still go to Copenhagen Airport to pick him up at 10 p.m., as agreed.

During dinner on Fanø, Susanne noticed that Kjeld wasn’t drinking any red wine. She looked at him enquiringly. He leaned over towards her ear and whispered, ‘I think we’ll have to go home this evening.’

It was the final of the Eurovision Song Contest and Susanne and Kjeld and their friends watched with 150 million other viewers as a barefooted Danish girl, Emmelie de Forest, sang herself into the hearts of Europeans to win with ‘Only Teardrops’.

Kjeld had difficulty concentrating and, just after 10 p.m., Signe rang. Daniel hadn’t been on the plane. But was it the one he should have been on? There was confusion about the arrival time. The note Daniel had written was at home on the table in Hedegård. Kjeld remembered that Daniel had crossed out the flight time and written a new one, but no one could now say with certainty when he was supposed to arrive.

‘We have to go home,’ said Kjeld.

The last ferry sailed from Fanø at 11.30 p.m. They just made it.

When they got home, Kjeld immediately found Daniel’s note. He should have landed by now. Kjeld went into his office and at 1 a.m. he called Arthur’s number.

· * ·

Daniel didn’t know how much time had passed before he heard footsteps on the stairs and a man ordered him to sit up and cross his legs. A hand pushed the blindfold down around his neck and Daniel could just make out the contours of a man sitting on a stool, holding something that looked like his notebook.

The man’s movements were calm. He asked questions in broken English about Daniel’s notebook and the names and experiences written in it. As Daniel was practically blind without his glasses, the man had to hold the notebook up to his eyes, while he read the notes out loud in Danish.

Daniel told him he was a gymnast and reminded himself that he shouldn’t talk about religion but about family, which the kidnapper might be able to relate to. To illustrate that he was telling the truth, he got up from the mattress and did the splits with his hands cuffed.

‘Stop that,’ the man said. ‘If the others see that I’m sitting like this with you right now, I’ll be in trouble.’

Daniel was overflowing with questions he didn’t dare ask, frightened of provoking his kidnappers.

‘I really hope that the others believe your story as much as I do. Whatever happens, they won’t kill you,’ the man stated, before blindfolding Daniel again and disappearing from the basement.

Soon there was noise on the stairs, as if several people were coming down into the basement room. Daniel heard the tramp of boots - and the sound of a stun gun that buzzed close to him. Suddenly there was a huge blast as a shot was fired into the ceiling. His ears were ringing.

‘You, CIA!’ a voice shouted.

Daniel didn’t answer; his thoughts were whirling in his head.

‘We shoot you! We cut your head off!’

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Will this take three days … or three weeks? he wondered.

Daniel felt several pairs of hands on his body, carrying him up the stairs, and then they beat him over the head with what felt like the barrel of a rifle, before he was loaded into a van. At first he thought he was alone in the back of the car, but after they had driven a little way, he heard Ayman’s tearful voice. He was either shouting or praying to Allah.

The smell of diesel fuel entered Daniel’s nose and he tensed his muscles to keep his balance against the swinging of the vehicle. He felt defenceless with his hands cuffed behind his back.

They were going to die. He could hear that in Ayman’s prayers. He imagined drowsily how they would soon stop the car and shoot him and Ayman, a bullet in the back of the head for each of them. He became strangely peaceful at the thought. Sounds and smells and dreams disappeared instantly. All that was left was the memory of his life.

I have experienced a lot in my short life. I’m grateful for that. Maybe I’ve constantly been pushing at the boundaries. Now I’ve felt the real world. Some things have consequences and that is what is happening now. I will go to my father; maybe I’ll meet him now. And Nan and Günther the cat. Signe, we found each other again. Mum and Dad, you have been the most wonderful parents … and Grandma and Grandpa …

The car stopped, pulling Daniel abruptly out of his thoughts. He was dragged from the car and thrown into a cold basement room with a tiled floor that seemed like a bathroom.

He fell asleep on the hard floor in the foetal position, with handcuffs and blindfold still in place, and woke up only when cold water was thrown over his head. Other prisoners were brought into the room, but Daniel didn’t dare to speak to them or Ayman. Perhaps they were spies and his driver’s accomplices, he thought.

During the night, his body shook with cold. During the day, what sounded like young men came and made frivolous interrogations.

‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ asked one of them.

‘Yes, Signe,’ said Daniel from his position on the floor. The young men laughed triumphantly.

‘You should just know that when people like you disappear, the girls leave you. She’s probably screwing someone else already. That’s what they do in the country you come from.’

After two days the blindfold was removed and Daniel and Ayman were handcuffed together, Daniel’s left hand with Ayman’s right. The kidnappers weren’t taking any chances, pulling a set of shackles through the bars of a small basement window and putting them on their hostages’ feet.

Daniel and Ayman sat down together and cried.

· * ·

Arthur was in Ukraine and still awake when his mobile rang at 2 a.m. on Sunday, 19 May. He didn’t recognize the number on the display.

‘Hello, my name’s Kjeld Rye and I’m Daniel Rye’s father. Excuse me for calling so late.’

Kjeld explained that his son hadn’t come home from Syria on Saturday evening as planned.

‘Why do you think something has happened to Daniel?’ asked Arthur.

‘Because we haven’t had any text messages, as we agreed,’ said Kjeld.

Arthur knew there could be many reasons why Daniel hadn’t kept in touch. The telephone network was often down in Syria; the borders opened and closed without notice; Daniel could have been slightly injured and be lying in a hospital. But the matter had to be investigated, so Arthur asked Kjeld to send him all the information he had been given by Daniel.

A few hours later Arthur was contacted by Signe, who had left the airport, out of her mind with worry. She wrote:

I’ve just talked to Daniel’s fixer. Daniel has been arrested by the Jabhat al-Nusra faction just outside Azaz while taking photographs. He has been in their custody since 10 o’clock Friday morning. His fixer says they are negotiating and that Daniel will most probably be out again in a few days. He says that they aren’t violent, but very angry. Daniel’s parents can’t speak English, so right now I’m the one who has contact with the fixer. You are welcome to call me when you read this. And maybe call his parents, so they can be reassured.

First of all Arthur had to try to map out Daniel’s route into Syria and make contact with the people he had been with or spoken to on the trip. Signe’s exchange with the fixer Ahmed was a good start, although Arthur always approached sources critically.

Arthur had learned from the James Foley case how important it is to control information, so there were not more rumours than facts in circulation. If too many people became aware of Daniel’s situation, it would make collecting intelligence on him more difficult. It couldn’t be ruled out, either, that some of the people with whom Daniel had had contact were behind the kidnapping. So there was an important question buzzing in Arthur’s head: who was Ahmed?

In their chat, Ahmed had written to Signe:

‘Don’t worry, we’ll get him out. We’ll wait two more days and then they will no doubt find out, after looking at his camera, that there’s nothing to it - that there are only interviews with families in the area.’

‘OK,’ Signe had answered. ‘I understand. But is there money involved?’

‘No, it isn’t about money,’ said Ahmed. ‘It’s about whether there is anything suspicious about him. And besides, it could well be that they contact you or his parents, because he mentioned your name. He apparently told them that he wanted to leave the country and go back to his girlfriend.’ Ahmed had added that Signe - in case she was contacted - should say that she was going to marry Daniel in July. It would make things ‘easier’.

Arthur’s inner alarm bells rang whenever someone said ‘Don’t worry, we’ll fix it’, because it was usually hot air. He had to get hold of Ahmed as soon as possible, so he didn’t get involved any further. It could be that Ahmed was wrong, was being misinformed or was even part of the game.

Arthur knew that anything was possible in Syria - like, for example, making James Foley disappear without a trace for seven months.

The same thing mustn’t happen to Daniel.

· * ·

That night Kjeld spent several hours in his office, speaking alternately with Arthur and Signe. He wrote half-sentences and fragments of telephone conversations down on the note Daniel had left. ‘Jabnat almusra, Azaz,’ he wrote and framed it in a square, but corrected it later to ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’, which was written beside ‘three options’ and ‘closed border Syria’.

‘I’m afraid it’s not good,’ he remarked quietly to Susanne.

She cried, at a loss for words.

Just past 3 a.m. Christina came home from a friend’s eighteenth birthday party at Hedegård Community Hall.

‘Why aren’t you on Fanø - and why are you up?’ she asked, surprised.

Susanne told a white lie to spare her. She was about to take her high-school exams and they didn’t want to upset her.

‘So many people came over that we decided we would rather sleep at home,’ Susanne replied.

‘My God, you really have become old and boring,’ said Christina and went to bed.

A mountain of practical tasks were clamouring for attention and Arthur gave Daniel’s parents instructions as to what they should do. At 10 a.m. on Sunday morning Kjeld rang the family’s banker in Give and asked him for a printout of a statement for Daniel’s account, so that the family could see if he had paid his insurance and which company was insuring him. In addition, Kjeld requested that he call them if any money was drawn on the account. Arthur had experience of other cases in Syria in which the kidnappers had used credit cards to withdraw money or make purchases online.

Daniel had done what he was supposed to do and insured himself with an independent international insurance company. The sum insured was 5 million kroner (about £520,000), which would cover any expenses in connection with a kidnapping and the costs for a security consultant like Arthur to carry out an investigation.

Kjeld also rang the police. Arthur had already informed the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) about the matter. PET had to ensure that the police treated Kjeld’s report with discretion at every level. This was crucial, since the daily police report could be leaked and used as a resource for journalists. The authorities didn’t want news of the missing Dane to come out.

Arthur also informed the Danish government about Daniel’s disappearance. He contacted the Danish Embassy in Beirut and the Citizens Advice Bureau at the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen, which assists and advises Danes who get into difficulties or have accidents while travelling abroad.

Arthur had emphasized to Daniel’s parents how vital it was that only the relevant authorities knew anything. Any media attention could hurt Daniel’s situation and, since it was still unclear what had happened and who had taken him, they had to keep it a secret.

Susanne and Kjeld told Christina, who was in the middle of her exams, that Daniel hadn’t come home yet because ‘the borders had been closed in Syria’.

On the other hand, they told Daniel’s older sister, Anita, the truth. She knew that Daniel was going to Syria, but in the months leading up to his departure she hadn’t had much contact with him. She lived with her partner in Odense and she was used to Daniel travelling a lot.

Three days after Daniel’s disappearance, Kjeld and Susanne drove to Signe’s apartment in Copenhagen, where they met Arthur, who was now back from Ukraine. They lied to Christina again, telling her that Kjeld had a meeting with the agricultural firm DLG and that in the meantime Susanne was going to do some shopping.

At the meeting, Arthur updated them on the situation in Syria.

‘It can take anywhere from a few days to … well, much longer,’ said Arthur and he told them briefly about the James Foley case and others.

He asked the family to keep an eye on Daniel’s Facebook profile.

‘Leave all channels of communication open,’ said Arthur. ‘The kidnappers must be able to check who Daniel is. If they encounter a black hole, they’ll become suspicious.’

In addition, he sought information about Daniel, so that he could get an investigation going and so that he could get ‘proof of life’ on Daniel if the kidnappers made contact. A proof of life could come from Arthur asking the kidnappers a series of questions that only the captive could answer or from a photograph of the person they had kidnapped.

Kjeld, Susanne and Signe wrote a list of information: about a scar on Daniel’s lip, which he got when a spade hit him in the face as a boy; that he had worked on a pig farm while he was at the Free School; that he drank coffee without milk; that he had celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday with Signe at Flyvergrillen at Copenhagen Airport; that there was a black-and-white horse poster hanging over Signe’s bed; and that they were going to Morocco for a month in July.

Kjeld and Susanne went back home to Hedegård in a composed and hopeful mood, while Arthur boarded a plane to Antakya in Turkey to meet his contacts.

· * ·

Daniel woke up early because Ayman had to perform his morning prayers. They were chained together, so a routine had begun whereby they swept away the dust on the floor with their hands, folded the blankets they had been given and sat upon them to pray. Daniel prayed with Ayman five times a day and it felt reassuring. In those minutes of prayer Daniel shut out the world and explored Ayman’s faith. They were given bulgur wheat, bread and olives twice a day, and they shared a one-and-a-half litre bottle, which they filled with water when they were occasionally allowed to go to the toilet.

When Ayman told Daniel about his wife and two daughters, who were now living in Turkey, he began to cry. Daniel cried too when he talked about Signe and his family.

‘When we’re set free one day, you must come to Denmark to visit Legoland with your daughters,’ suggested Daniel.

Ayman taught him a few useful words in Arabic, so he could ask for water and to be allowed to go to the toilet. Sometimes new guards arrived and asked them who they were. Then they left again.

Time became endless. Daniel began pulling threads out of his blanket, which he then shaped into letters and a car on the floor. Ayman read the Koran, which he had asked for and received.

One morning they awoke to find their linked hands, which were exposed while they slept, red with mosquito bites. They launched a hunt for the pests and Daniel felt a twinge of conscience about killing them.

They had been sitting in the same room for a week when, early one morning, a prison guard released Ayman and led him away. Daniel waited for Ayman to come back, but he never saw him again. He was convinced that Ayman had been set free and he now sat alone in the cell, waiting for it to be his turn.

But no one came and fetched him. Not even when he had to go to the toilet. He pounded on the door; he shouted and pounded again.

He didn’t know whether he could hold out, because he had no idea how long it would be before they let him go to the toilet. He looked around the room. In one corner there was a plate of bread crumbs, a cup and a half-full water bottle. His insides were about to burst. He filled the cup with water, so the bottle was almost empty. Then he pulled down his trousers, put the remains of the bread under his behind - and shat on the bread. Afterwards, he stuffed the bread and faeces into the nearly empty water bottle. Some of it stuck to the side, some of it stuck to his fingers; it stank and he was embarrassed, even though he was alone. He screwed the lid on the bottle, placed it in the corner and used the water in the cup to wash his hands and the floor. He felt relieved, but hardly dared to think about the bottle of shit in the corner.

Many hours later, when the guard finally stood in the doorway, he became angry.

‘Don’t you know that it’s haram to shit on your bread? How could you do that?’ he shouted.

Daniel explained that he had knocked on the door and had called out.

‘You have to tell us when you need the toilet,’ said the guard.

He was given a bath and clean clothes, while his own were washed. There was hot water and soap and Daniel wondered if they were getting ready to release him like Ayman.

The next day he was given a pen and some sheets of paper. He passed the time by writing a story that took place one thousand years from now, in 3013, which featured a family who lived in a basement during a world war. It was a story about living where there was never any light and still being able to create something.

He had been imprisoned for ten days when the door opened suddenly one evening. Masked men with weapons burst in. They were rough as they held his head and blindfolded him.

‘We will shoot you, kufr, infidel!’ they shouted as they dragged him up the stairs and out to a car. He felt alone without Ayman and had no idea where they were moving him. Were they taking their infidel further into Syria or to the gallows?

What did they want with him?