Alan Henning, the latest hostage threatened with death by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is neither a journalist nor a professional aid worker. The 47-year-old is a taxi driver from northwest England whom friends describe as a “big man with a big heart,” according to the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.
"He is the nicest of nice guys who has done so much to help other people,” fellow taxi driver Kasim Jameel told the newspaper. “He is just a normal bloke, an everyday taxi driver who wanted to do good. We are thinking about him all the time and praying that he will be allowed home to his family."
Henning reportedly left his wife of 23 years, Barbara, 45, and two teenage children at home in Salford, Greater Manchester, last Christmastime to join Jameel and a group of Muslim friends in making what British newspaper The Bolton News described as a 20-vehicle, 4,000-mile journey to Syria to deliver medical supplies to refugees caught up in the country’s civil war. Masked gunmen reportedly stopped the convoy after it crossed the Turkish border Dec. 26 and targeted Henning, separating him from the group.
"He was taking over old ambulances, just helping out as much as he could,” a close friend told the Telegraph newspaper. "There were a few of them that went out with him. They were just a group of mates that started it all off. They were supposed to be over there for about six months, but he was kidnapped just a few days after he left."
Henning was identified as the next ISIS victim at the end of the beheading video of British aid worker David Haines released Saturday.
He had reportedly previously traveled to Syria as part of two similar humanitarian aid convoys organized by the small, informal volunteer group Aid 4 Syria and the UK Arab Society. BBC journalist Catrin Nye met Henning while making a documentary about such convoys to Syria and told the Guardian how the first trip to Syria moved Henning to do more.
"It had been a life-changing experience," Nye said. "He had handed out the goods. He described holding the children ... and how that really affected him. He told me he had to go back."
Henning even permanently inked his commitment to the cause, as convoy organizer Jameel told The Bolton News: “He loved the cause so much that when he went on holiday with his family, he had a big tattoo across his arm, saying, ‘aid for Syria.’ He was that dedicated.”