LONDON – Alan Henning, a British volunteer aid worker purportedly slain by the Islamic State militant group, was described by friends as a hard-working family man who felt compelled to help people suffering from the civil war in Syria.
Henning, 47, had joined an aid convoy and was taken captive on Dec. 26, shortly after crossing the border between Turkey and Syria. A cab driver from northwest England, Henning got involved in taking aid to Syria through a colleague. Friends said he had traveled to the Turkey-Syria border several times in the two years before his capture, leaving behind a wife and two teenage children to help people whose lives were shattered by war.
"He's just a taxi driver with a heart of gold who basically wanted to help people," said a friend, Martin Shedwick.
Henning, nicknamed "Gadget," reportedly joined a convoy organized by an Islamic charity, Al-Fatiha Global, based in Worcester, England.
"I asked why he wanted to do it, because it was dangerous and he had family here. And he just said 'it's what I love to do,'" said friend Orlando Napolitano, recalling a conversation in his cafe just before Henning left in December.
"It was his passion. He'd been there twice before and would tell me about all the people there who have nothing, about all the difficulties they face. It was his passion to help them, he didn't care if it was dangerous," the Manchester Evening News quoted Napolitano as saying.
Henning, his wife Barbara and two teenage children lived in Eccles, near Manchester in northwest England.
A neighbor Debbie Ashton, described him as a "lovely guy."
"He was always asking us if we knew anyone who was throwing their clothes away," the Daily Telegraph newspaper quoted her as saying.
"He told me they would go to the border and they would have to take everything out of the van and go in ambulances, otherwise they wouldn't let him in.
"He was really emotional about it all and he used to say those kids need all the help they can get," she said. "He told me 'You wouldn't believe the life they live over there.'"
Harald Doombos, a Dutch reporter who interviewed a Syrian activist who had briefly been held in the same place as Henning, said the British man believed he would soon be released.
"Don't worry about me, I'll be out in no time because I'm just an aid worker. They will release me," Doombos said his Syrian contact quoted Henning as saying.
"He rather naively, maybe, thought it was all going to be OK, that it was some kind of misunderstanding." Doombos said.
In April, Britain's Charity Commission announced it had begun an inquiry into Al-Fatiha Global because of "serious concerns about the governance and financial management of the charity."
Among other things, the inquiry was examining allegations of "inappropriate links between the charity and individuals purportedly involved in supporting armed or other inappropriate activities in Syria." There was no indication that the investigation was related to Henning's case.
Many British Muslim groups had called for Henning to be released.
Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said Henning had traveled to Syria to help people, mainly Muslims, whose lives had been ravaged by war.
"Such a man should be celebrated, not incarcerated," he said of Henning.