Daniel and James - The ISIS Hostage (2016)

The ISIS Hostage (2016)

Daniel and James

Early in the morning of 23 August another email arrived in Kjeld’s inbox. He was already on his way to work, but pulled his red truck over to the side of the road to read it. There was a video attachment. He called Susanne and they agreed that they would watch the video, which was probably of Daniel, when they were home from work.

In the evening the family downloaded the file and Daniel appeared on screen, wearing a camouflage jacket. He stood up against a blue wall and said: ‘My mum’s name is Susanne. My dad’s name is Kjeld. My girlfriend’s name is Signe. It’s the twenty-first of August and the guy who helped me is Majeed.’

Daniel was staring into the lens. His round eyes glowed orange in the light from the camera. In the background could be heard the sound of cicadas. When he had to name the man who was helping him, he looked down at a spot under the camera, as if he couldn’t remember the name, and then said ‘Majeed’.

The video lasted only fifteen seconds, so they played it several times, looking for various signs of torture, starvation and lack of hygiene. Susanne felt relieved to finally hear her son’s voice. He seemed composed on the video, but at the same time the situation was so scary that it felt surreal.

Christina felt that no one dared to talk about the fears they all shared. In Hedegård they didn’t talk much about their feelings, given the difficulty of articulating what they all feared - the unspeakable situation that was permeating their everyday lives. Would Daniel die? Would he ever come home?

Daniel still looked thin - and then there were those frightening marks on his neck. He was no longer the Daniel they knew. He was a hostage, who had been told what to say and how to say it. They couldn’t decipher his facial expressions, which were almost non-existent.

The video was saved on the family computer and Christina sometimes watched it when she was home alone; so did Kjeld and Susanne, but none of them spoke about it.

The worst part was that the nightmare had only just begun. The negotiations had gone cold and it could take a long time to get Daniel back.

The video was the latest sign of life and it was also the most recent indirect contact with the kidnappers, but no demand or proposal came with it. No one showed any interest in coming to a definitive agreement, so the video was just a message to reassure the family that Daniel was alive. It had nothing to do with getting him released.

Arthur had begun to doubt whether Majeed still had access to the hospital and Daniel’s kidnappers. He advised the family to find new ways to establish contact. He helped them formulate a letter to Abu Athir, the Emir of Aleppo, in the hope that the family would be able to build a relationship with him that could bring Daniel home.

‘Dear A. A.,’ began the letter. ‘We very much hope that your health has improved and we wish you a continued speedy recovery.’ They were referring to Abu Athir’s leg, which, so they had been informed, had been injured by shrapnel.

We understand that Daniel violated your regulations while carrying out his work. We are very sorry about that and we offer our deepest apologies for his wrongdoings. We in his family are very unhappy and afraid about his situation. Two of Daniel’s grandparents are still alive; they are both elderly and very sad and worried about what has happened to their grandson. It is very hard for both of them and we are very concerned that they may die of sorrow. Daniel is our only son, the one whose role is to maintain the continuity of the family. He is a good son and a loving brother to his two sisters, who are inconsolable. He is the kind of son who looks after and takes responsibility for the family. We beg you sincerely and with all our hearts to let Daniel come home.

The letter, which was translated into Arabic and signed by the whole family, ended with yet another apology for Daniel’s actions.

· * ·

In northern and eastern Syria a storm was brewing. ISIS had been officially formed five months earlier and the organization’s fighters were advancing rapidly. They were expanding into cities and villages that the other Syrian rebel groups had recently seized from the Assad regime. As the Washington Post reported on 12 August 2013, ISIS was ‘carving out the kind of sanctuaries that the US military spent more than a decade fighting to prevent in Iraq and Afghanistan’.

At the same time Baghdadi’s ISIS faction had as good as seized power in Raqqa in an internal struggle with Jabhat al-Nusra. ISIS fighters kidnapped civilians and rebels who opposed the strictness of their order, including the local commander, who had led the fight against the government forces in Raqqa in March 2013. Many fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra had switched over to ISIS, which was also growing thanks to foreign fighters from throughout the Middle East and western countries. In the city of Adana, not far from Aleppo, they shot demonstrators and cut the throat of the local leader of the Free Syrian Army, which consisted of more moderate rebels.

The Syrian rebels were no longer fighting only the Syrian military and the regime’s militias. They were also fighting ISIS and were therefore under pressure from two fronts, a situation which strengthened President Assad. The Syrian regime continued its bombardment of areas controlled by moderate rebel groups, while there was rarely an attack on ISIS in Raqqa.

ISIS’s struggle was also about winning hearts and minds. But in many areas where ISIS fighters were surging forwards, the locals didn’t care for their brutal methods. Even so, it was difficult to rebel against such an organized force. ISIS didn’t tolerate any criticism and they shot anyone who contradicted them. In a video posted on YouTube in August 2013 it still looked as if they were trying to win the trust of the locals; it showed a religious holiday and ISIS fighters were handing out toys like Teletubbies and stuffed animals. ISIS was also strengthened by the fact that a number of former military officers and Ba’ath Party members from Iraq were leading the group; they had experience in organizing fighters and disciplining populations. ISIS had emerged directly out of the political situation in Iraq left by the American invasion in 2003.

The organization deliberately used the Internet as an effective tool for spreading its message. ISIS was circulating slick propaganda and recruitment videos, produced with modern camera equipment and skilful graphics and editing techniques.

In one of the videos, none other than Abu Athir appeared, undisguised, along with the Chechen military leader born in Georgia who used the name Omar al-Shishani. The half-hour long video began with a caption showing the ‘military operations room for the attack’, after which Abu Athir discussed the strategy for a number of operations intended to pave the way southwards towards the towns of Hama and Homs. The shadow of his thick, curly hair moved in the light of a Google map projected on to a white wall, while a soldier zoomed the image in and out as Abu Athir reviewed the military situation around some of the villages. Sitting in a camouflage shirt, he pointed to a yellow pin that was labelled ‘depot’.

‘Here is the Air Force base,’ he said, referring to the base held by the regime’s military forces. ‘If we take that, we open up the whole area,’ he continued, pointing to some villages inhabited by loyal citizens from the president’s own Alawite sect and guarded by regime soldiers.

‘In each village, there are perhaps only one or two tanks, so, God willing, it won’t be difficult. It will take them at least a day to assemble their troops if they want to send reinforcements. So the first day will be easy. The problem will come on the second day, but we are getting everything ready and giving our brothers mines and whatever else is available.’

His black hair looked purple in the light of the projector as he went on to talk about their arsenal.

‘We have what we need. Don’t say: Why haven’t you given us this or brought us that? Put your trust in God. We haven’t been able to procure more than that and the rest is up to God. As I always say to my brother: If you have just a single cartridge, kill someone with it; don’t let it cause you to lose heart. If God wishes it, one bullet will protect you, I swear. We once resisted a full army, which had tanks and rocket launchers and all kinds of things, with just three Russian cartridges. It isn’t a matter of having anti-tank missiles; it’s a matter of faith and putting your trust in God and nothing else. I swear, three rounds,’ concluded Abu Athir.

Not only the emir but also a group of young jihadists showed their uncovered faces on the video, which was intended to demonstrate how advanced the organization considered its operations to be. It was probably also the reason why the video was removed from the Internet after a short time.

ISIS’s growing strength should be seen in the light of the fact that the Syrians who lived in the newly ISIS-controlled areas had already been traumatized by the war and the state of emergency. They dared not oppose the new rulers, nor were they in a position to rebel against them. For these Syrians it was about surviving the bombs that were being dropped on them and making do with the limited food available.

ISIS was taking root in a state of chaos, while Syria’s infrastructure was being bombed to pieces. The organization sought to establish its dream - the Islamic Caliphate - on the ruins of Syria.

· * ·

It was after dark when the eight hostages were to be moved from the basement under the children’s hospital. Daniel stood handcuffed and blindfolded. His bare feet protruded beyond the size 34 turquoise sandals he had been given.

They were escorted out to two cars. Daniel heard Pierre’s voice and was relieved that he was in the same car. After about half an hour the car stopped and their handcuffs and blindfolds were removed. They were thrown on to a chilly concrete floor in a dark kitchen and given a sandwich.

They were not offered any blankets and Daniel was freezing cold during the night. He was annoyed with himself for forgetting to bring the socks he had snatched one day during a toilet visit. There were sometimes discarded clothes out in the toilet, which the prisoners stole and took back to their cells. Despite the cold and the hard floor, he finally fell asleep with his head lying on one of Pierre’s desert boots. The next morning the prisoners were woken up, blindfolded again and herded down a concrete staircase, while tied together in a long line. Daniel was afraid of falling, because those at the front of the human chain were dragging him down. He felt the gravel under his heels, which were sticking out of his sandals, as he carefully put one foot in front of the other, until they were led into a room with two oblong basement windows and a tiled floor.

At the time the prisoners weren’t aware that they had been brought to the industrial district of Sheikh Najjar, a couple of miles beyond the north-east suburbs of Aleppo. Before the war the area had housed hundreds of factories and businesses, producing things like medicine and cement for the construction industry. But the fighting between rebel factions and the regime had laid waste to the area and forced most of the businesses to shut down. In some areas Sheikh Najjar had become a spectral neighbourhood.

They were given water bottles and two blankets to be shared between eight prisoners. They also requested the most important thing: a bucket they could use if the guards forgot to let them go to the toilet.

When the blankets were distributed, a debate about lice arose. In the cell under the children’s hospital Daniel had discovered some lice and lice eggs along the edge of his blue underpants and this had caused panic among the prisoners.

They asked him to check if he still had body lice. He found the small black insects and white eggs in his clothes, and when Pierre inspected his own clothing he discovered a large colony as well. The rest of the group refused to have lice near them, so Daniel and Pierre were sent to a space at one end of the cell, because there was an unwritten rule among the prisoners that the spread of diseases and pests should be avoided. If he tried to move into the ‘lice-free’ end, Daniel would immediately be asked to go back to his area. He protested loudly that they were treating him as if he was dirty and should be expelled from the group.

‘Check your own clothes,’ he said. ‘It just can’t be true that you don’t have lice. If Pierre has them, then it’s likely the rest of you have them too.’

It turned out they all had body lice, except for the newcomer, Steven, who lay without a blanket in the middle of the hard tile floor to keep as far away as possible from the others. Daniel was relieved that they were all infested. Lice had suddenly become common property - and they were also the world’s greatest pastime. Daniel and Pierre sat beside each other for hours squashing the small insects and debating whether it was enough to squeeze them flat or whether they should have their heads ripped off. Pierre was good at finding them with his long nails; every day they counted how many they had found and compared their size and colour.

They also talked about what might be happening outside the basement room. They could hear that someone was sawing, hammering and drilling, and by peeping out through the keyhole, they could see that a group of workmen was busy building something. They couldn’t see what it was, but it was clear that the guards didn’t want the workmen discovering the eight hostages in the cell. Toilet times were limited to early morning and late evening, when the workmen weren’t there. The guards also impressed on the prisoners that they should be quiet inside the cell during the day.

After almost a week, the guards elected to move the hostages upstairs to a room the prisoners began calling the Cigar Box. It measured just 6 feet by 13 feet, and the eight hostages had to lie in a row across the room, even though they were still sharing just two blankets.

‘If you look at us, you will be executed,’ said one guard firmly before closing the door.

The air didn’t circulate in that claustrophobic room, which had only a small window overlooking a wall, and the prisoners were so closely clumped together that they all knew everything about everyone else.

When Daniel and David were whispering about opening a kind of stress centre together, in a country house with lakes, trees and animals, one of the others interrupted them.

‘Shut up, you two. What a stupid idea. What do you think you can do with your skills?’

‘Stay out of our conversation,’ said Daniel, who felt he was about to explode. After all, he didn’t grumble when the others talked about their travels around the world.

And when Nicolas later got up and pulled himself up into the cell’s small window to look out, some of the others dragged him down roughly.

‘Don’t fucking do that again! You constitute a security risk,’ said Federico, reminding Nicolas that they had been given strict orders not to look at the guards. There could have been a guard standing there, staring at the window.

Frustrations grew in the unbearable heat of the Cigar Box, where they were all hungry and mentally exhausted. They were often given only a biscuit or a plate with a thin layer of hummus for sharing and the guards drained them psychologically with false promises. They called on the hostages to choose two or three among them to talk to a doctor from the Red Cross as part of a possible negotiation, but nothing happened. They realized it was a false hope that the guards had planted in their minds so that they wouldn’t try to escape.

As a defence against the tension, hunger and mental games, Daniel passed the time by playing the tour guide. The idea was that the hostages would visit each other for a few days when they were released. They would each tell the others about what they could offer in the way of experiences.

‘After you land at the airport in Billund, we’ll drive to my parents’ summer house, where there are exactly eight beds,’ began Daniel. ‘My mother, Susanne, will come and prepare meatballs, gravy and potatoes. Then we’ll go to my old boarding school and bounce on the trampoline and go canoeing on the lake and make a camp fire.’ They would grill and drink beer and Daniel’s cousin would serve her special chocolate layer cake.

‘We’ll also go to Legoland, where my mother works,’ said Daniel.

Pierre played along and told them that it would be best to visit him in the autumn.

‘This is my favourite time of the year, because then there are apples on our apple trees,’ he said. They would pick apples and make cider and cakes, which they would enjoy in the garden.

The game eased the atmosphere, as did the industrial fan the guards put into the cell. It made so much noise that some of them got migraines, but under the cover of the noise, the prisoners could talk together in pairs without everyone being able to listen in on the conversation.

Someone knocked hard on the door - harder and faster than usual.

‘Hands on the wall!’ shouted a man with a British accent.

Daniel noted that he had a much firmer tone than the French guards who were the most frequent visitors. He found it both frightening and dangerous, because the man spoke fluent English and he understood every word.

The prisoners weren’t allowed to turn around towards the British man, who demanded answers on how often they were given food and if they were allowed to use the toilet.

‘We don’t get much food,’ said one of the prisoners.

‘You should be happy with what you get,’ said the Brit, adding on the way out that they would soon be under his custody.

When the door closed, the hostages turned and faced each other. Federico and David were deathly pale and their hands were shaking. They recognized the voice and the British accent.

‘There were three Brits when we were in the Box,’ they explained, referring to the place where they had been held before Daniel met them.

‘What did they do to you?’ someone asked.

Silence fell in the Cigar Box. They didn’t want to go into detail and Daniel imagined that the Brit had been their torturer, their Abu Hurraya.

‘It will be a completely different daily routine if we are put under the control of the British,’ said David and Federico.

They went through their advice for best behaviour. Look at the wall. Always respond succinctly to their questions. Be humble. Don’t answer back. Be extremely grateful. Never ask for anything.

There was disquiet in the cell. What would this mean for their release? What would a negotiation be like under the control of the British jailers?

· * ·

In mid-September 2013 Arthur received information that Daniel had been moved to a new location in Aleppo. There was no indication of where exactly or where the many other kidnapped journalists were - including James Foley, whom he had been trying to find for the last ten months.

There had been total silence since Susanne and Kjeld sent their personal appeal to Emir Abu Athir. They didn’t know whether or not he had even received their letter. Every shred of information about Daniel gave them new hope, and with Anita they made regular trips from Jutland to Copenhagen to attend meetings at the Foreign Ministry, where they were served coffee, lemon moon cake and pastries. There was a definite culture clash when the couple from Hedegård, who were used to being in control of their lives, met the rather stiff and bureaucratic officials.

The Foreign Ministry’s primary role was to host meetings at which the various actors who were dealing with the ‘Daniel affair’, as the Ministry called it, could exchange information and discuss strategy. Arthur was present every now and then, if he wasn’t in Turkey.

Kjeld felt that the officials were friendly and welcoming, but it seemed to be part of their job to talk for hours without saying anything concrete. Decisions were often handed over to Kjeld, who felt totally unprepared. Neither he nor Susanne knew anything about kidnappings.

‘We’ll support you one hundred per cent in whatever you decide,’ was the usual message.

It could, for example, be a question of whether the family should spend another 50,000 kroner (about £٥,٣٠٠) so that Arthur could send several local investigators into Syria.

There was also material that the Ministry held back for good reason, such as information that other states had shared with Denmark and therefore couldn’t be disclosed. It gave Kjeld an unfamiliar feeling of having lost control of the situation.

Another problem also weighed on the family: the insurance payment of 5 million kroner had run out. It had been used up during the last few months on Arthur and others who were working around the clock to get Daniel home. Kjeld and Susanne asked cautiously at the Ministry if there was any help to be had for certain expenses, such as Arthur’s salary. But the bureaucrats were following the orders of the government, which insisted that they couldn’t cover Arthur’s work or any other costs in connection with the case. Luckily, they had some savings, and Arthur agreed to wait for payment.

The Ministry and the other authorities involved in Daniel’s case kept a low profile and took on the role of informing the government, while Arthur was in charge of the search for Daniel and in close contact with the family.

Anita didn’t experience culture shock with the Ministry in the same way as Susanne and Kjeld. She was used to going to meetings at ministries and other agencies as part of her work as a chemical engineer. She was able to keep some distance from the case and to understand it from several angles. However, she completely understood Kjeld’s and Susanne’s feeling of helplessness and their need for almost daily updates from Arthur. For them, no news quickly became bad news.

Every morning when Susanne dragged her body out of bed, she brewed herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the computer to check whether there were any important messages about Daniel. In addition to all the other new routines she had acquired to cope with the situation, she also listened every morning to the song ‘Small Shocks’ by the Danish band Panamah. For the three and a half minutes the track lasted, she let go, allowing herself to be in her grief, fear and longing, and cried from start to finish. Some mornings she played the song several times.

Although it was a love song, the lyrics expressed how she felt.

Will you come back home?

Here in the wee small hours, time goes by so slow

and when I think ahead

Knowing I have so much to do makes me feel so low

‘Dawn’s breaking soon, brothers’

‘Dawn’s breaking soon, brothers’

Promise me my love it’s not over yet

It’ll all work out

It’ll all work out

When the time is right

I miss you so

It’ll all work out

Now I pray with all my might

Hoping that the time is right

While I’m waiting here,

my lips go stiff and frozen without me knowing why

the small shocks that follow me no matter what

and why do I feel this longing

when all things pass away

‘Dawn’s breaking soon, brothers’

‘Dawn’s breaking soon, brothers’

· * ·

The hostages were moved from the Cigar Box back to the basement. The guard took Daniel by the shoulders and removed his blindfold, so that he could see the surprise that awaited him.

‘Toilet!’ shouted the guard enthusiastically.

The workmen had built a toilet in the basement room. This must mean they were going to be there for a long time.

On the other side of the corridor in the basement, a number of one-person cells, which already contained prisoners, had also been built. Daniel had heard them screaming when they were being beaten late at night.

Their own cell received yet another prisoner. Spanish war correspondent Marc Marginedas became the cell’s ninth foreign hostage. He was in his mid-forties and an experienced correspondent for the newspaper El Periódico in Barcelona. He had been in prison for a month in the basement of the children’s hospital in Aleppo before he joined Daniel’s group, but he still arrived with news from the outside world.

‘Denmark won the Eurovision Song Contest,’ he said, and told them about the Danish singer Emmelie de Forest performing in bare feet.

The more sombre news was that there had been a massive poison-gas attack at the end of August in the rebel-controlled areas on the outskirts of Damascus. Hundreds of people had lost their lives and the Americans had come close to intervening against the Assad regime, which they accused of being behind the atrocity. US involvement had been averted, however, because Russia put pressure on the regime and an agreement had been reached with the UN that Syria would allow its chemical weapons to be transported out of the country for destruction, including chemical warfare agents and the nerve gases sarin and mustard gas.

Daniel listened to the news from outside, which seemed strangely distant. Nothing other than the reality of captivity had existed for a long time. He had become accustomed to the days passing slowly and the now routine dramas of lice, faeces, blankets and food. After nearly five months in captivity, he had grown accustomed to being a hostage.

It was noon on 14 October. Daniel had just eaten a piece of bread with jam when they were asked to sit with their backs to the door.

He stole a glance under his armpit as more people entered the room and he saw a short man in a long camouflage tunic. Mattresses and pillows were dragged into the cell.

When the door was closed, Daniel turned round and instantly recognized James Foley and John Cantlie from the hospital prison. It was easy to remember James’s underbite and striking brown eyes beneath wide eyebrows. He hadn’t seen the man in the camouflage tunic before, but it turned out to be a German, Toni Neukirch. He was a trained chef and had travelled to Syria with a tent and sleeping bag to be a volunteer aid worker.

‘Oh boy, it’s just great to see you all!’ exclaimed James. First he gave his compatriot Steven a hug, after which he greeted the rest of the prisoners. There were now twelve hostages in the same room.

James said that he, Toni and John had been moved from the basement under the children’s hospital at the same time as Daniel and the others. They had been in the same prison, but in a different cell, until being moved together with the rest of the group. They rearranged their sleeping places, so now Daniel was in the corner furthest from the toilet beside Pierre. James took the spot by the door.

He was cool and collected and Daniel was extremely happy to see him, even though he didn’t really know the man. He felt as if they had received guests in their cell and he took pains to eat in a civilized manner.

James arrived with his broad smile and some pages that the guards had copied from books on Islam and given to him and others in the cell, as well as a ballpoint pen and a chess game made out of cardboard, with black and white pieces. Daniel noticed James’s long toes and that he also had a scar around one of his ankles. He couldn’t help but smile when James’s daydreaming and long limbs caused him to stumble or knock things over in the cell. When he reached for a water bottle, he was prone to tipping the other bottles over like dominoes. On the other hand, he took his conversion to Islam very seriously and prayed five times a day.

James and John had been kidnapped in Idlib province on 22 November 2012, during their last scheduled hours in Syria, where they had been for several weeks. They had been heading towards the Turkish border, when they stopped at an Internet café that they had used before. It was Thanksgiving and James chatted with friends in the United States, while sending off articles and photos.

As they were driving the last stretch towards the border, they were stopped by armed men and driven away.

While the US authorities and Arthur were still looking for James and trying to get information about him from the Syrian regime and other sources, he had been with Daniel and the others the whole time - now in a basement in Sheikh Najjar under ISIS control.

Despite the fact that James had been a hostage for nearly a year, he was spontaneous and easy to be around. He organized equal distribution of the food, of which there was never enough, and gave the impression that he was trying to survive by creating a good atmosphere. James had a strong sense of justice, willingly leading the way and taking it upon himself to ask the guards for more food.

‘By the way, it’s my fortieth birthday today,’ he remarked late at night on 18 October.

‘Congratulations,’ said Daniel. ‘I really hope that your birthday next year will be better.’

The atmosphere in the cell was lifted with James’s arrival, which gave Daniel renewed energy and confidence. He resumed his exercise routine and persuaded the others to do some too.

‘Put your forehead against the floor, not the top of your head.’

Daniel was trying to teach James to stand on his head. To no avail.

‘Ouch, my neck,’ winced James and sat back down.

Each morning from 8 to 10 Daniel did gymnastics with his fellow prisoners. On Mondays it was beginners or the older prisoners, on Wednesdays the youngsters, and on Fridays it was open to all. The number of participants varied, but most of them were keen to stay in shape.

James began his lessons on a Monday and when Daniel tried to cajole him to join in the following Friday, he shrank back into a corner.

‘I think I’ll skip it today,’ said James.

‘Come on now, be a man,’ laughed Daniel.

‘OK, I’ll give it a go.’

When Daniel held his gymnastics lessons, the others provided their blankets, laying them folded on the floor, so that they could turn somersaults on their skinny backs without it sounding like a bunch of bones sliding over the concrete.

After a large chunk of bread and four olives, James came forwards and the others sat along the wall, cheering wildly.

‘OK - I’m ready,’ he said, encouraged by his fellow prisoners.

Daniel was euphoric. He was used to seeing himself as the weak idiot in the corner - the one who hated himself because he had been ‘fucking kidnapped’ and starved into an emaciated prisoner, who couldn’t think of anything else than food and shitting in a bucket. Now he was contributing to the community with somersaults and balance exercises in ways that would strengthen their bodies and minds, and the other hostages applauded when someone mastered a move. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Steven taught yoga. Sundays they kept free.

It was pitch black in the cell in the evenings, because the electricity cut out. They lay freezing and huddled together under their blankets. One day James asked Daniel if he would teach him how to do massage. He knew that Daniel had learned some techniques from his gymnastics, when he and his teammates eased each other’s sore muscles.

Under cover of darkness at night, so the guards wouldn’t see, they began the lessons. Daniel told James about the body’s various fixed points, about how he should use the thumb or the elbow and how to do a scalp massage.

‘You’re too careful. I can’t feel it,’ said Daniel when James practised on him, but he still enjoyed the rare sense of being touched; for once, it wasn’t a beating from a whip or a cane.

Even though James couldn’t quite figure out how to do a massage, his gentle hands allowed Daniel to relax in a way he hadn’t done since he had first been captured. They often talked quietly together during these times. James spoke about his experiences as a journalist in Afghanistan and his kidnapping in Libya, when he was imprisoned for forty days by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces during the Libyan Civil War in 2011.

They also talked about women. James said that he had always felt clumsy with the opposite sex.

‘Women,’ Daniel said as he massaged James’s muscles, ‘they also like a good strong massage.’

James broke out in infectious laughter.