The wife of a British hostage threatened with execution by the Islamic State has issued a video appeal pleading with the extremist group to free him, just as Royal Air Force fighters began their first strikes on IS targets in Iraq.
Alan Henning, a 47-year-old taxi driver from Salford, was on a humanitarian mission with a Muslim charity delivering aid in Syria when he was kidnapped by IS in December.
In a tearful televised statement arranged by the British Foreign Office, Barbara Henning asked IS to show "mercy" to her husband, noting that leading Islamic figures around the world had urged the group to let him go. "Muslims across the globe continue to question the Islamic State over Alan's fate. Their position regarding his situation is unequivocal: he is innocent.
"Some say wrong time, wrong place. Alan was volunteering with his Muslim friends to help the people of Syria. He was in the right place doing the right thing."
Barbara Henning continued: "We are at a loss why those leading Islamic State cannot open their hearts and minds to the truth about Alan's humanitarian motives for going to Syria and why they continue to ignore the verdicts of their own justice system."
Shaking her head in distress, she added: "Surely those who wish to be seen as a state will act in a statesmanlike way by showing mercy and providing clemency. I ask again, supported by the voices across the world, for Islamic State to spare Alan's life."
Little was known publicly about Henning's case until he appeared in an IS video showing the execution of another British aid worker, David Haines, three weeks ago. After beheading Haines, ostensibly in retaliation for UK aid to the Kurdish Peshmurga, the British-accented IS executioner known as "Jihadi John" warned that Henning would be next unless the West halted its actions against the group in Iraq and Syria.
Since then, Muslim leaders across the UK and around the world have issued video and written appeals to the Islamic State, many of them giving scholarly explanations as to why sharia law forbids the killing of Henning.
Judge Shaykh Haitham Al Haddad, of the UK Sharia Council, said in one YouTube video: "This is to confirm that executing this man is totally haram, is impermissible, prohibited according to sharia for a number of reasons. … We ask you to adhere to the sharia ruling on this matter and release him immediately and unconditionally."
Ustadh Abu Eesa, head of the charity, Prophetic Guidance, with which Henning was working, hailed the taxi driver for responding to his call for help for the people of Syria. "Alan left his wife and his children and joined a local Muslim charity convoy in order to get aid to the most desperate. He did so because he passionately believes in helping the most needy… However strongly we feel about Western foreign policy, this killing will not help anyone bring closer a solution to their grievances."
The British accent of the IS executioner "Jihadi John" has alarmed UK authorities, already grappling with how to prevent young Britons traveling to Syria and Iraq to join IS. Prime Minister David Cameron issued a strong warning against doing so on Wednesday, saying such individuals would be treated as an "enemy of the UK."
The latest appeal from Barbara Henning, who has made a previous public overture to IS, came just as British jets began their first air raids on IS positions in Iraq since the parliament approved intervention on Friday. RAF Tornados flying out of a British base in Cyprus hit a heavy weapon position and an armed truck in north-western Iraq while providing air cover to Kurdish forces battling the militants, the ministry of defense said.
The British government has insisted it will not be deterred from the fight against IS by the group's actions against hostages. A number of parliamentarians opposed to intervention raised concern over the fate of British captives ahead of Friday's vote. However Haines's daughter Bethany told ITV that IS must be "eradicated," calling for airstrikes and the use of ground troops "if that's what it takes." His widow, Dragana Prodanovic Haines, told Sky News she backed airstrikes "limited to distinctive targets."
US-led air raids also struck close to Kobane in northern Syria on Wednesday morning, in an attempt to push back IS fighters who have advanced to within 1 or 2 miles of the Kurdish town, forcing thousands to flee towards nearby Turkey. The Telegraph reported on Wednesday that British and US special forces were working on Iraqi frontlines to train and advise Kurdish troops as part of an effort to push back IS and relieve pressure on Kobane, a key strategic point which lies within striking distance of the Turkish border.
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