NHS doctor is terror chief
A BRITISH photographer shot and wounded in Syria while held hostage by Islamic fanatics was astonished to find his captors were led by an NHS doctor.
The AK47-armed, heavily-bearded extremist told John Cantlie he had taken two years’ leave from a major London hospital to wage holy war.
And the medic, who described in detail his hospital experience and carried NHS medical kit, said he plans to return to the UK to become a trauma consultant in A&E.
John, 41, and Dutch colleague Jeroen Oerlemans were snatched while reporting Syria’s civil war between tyrant President Assad and rebels.
But they were horrified to find a British doctor among the leaders of a group that was threatening to behead its captives.
John said: “It was a bit of a surprise to find an NHS doctor as one of our captors â€” with an AK-47 and preaching Sharia law.
“I asked for his help as we were both from London. But he refused to even send a text to my girlfriend to say we were alive. He saidÂ HEÂ would be beheaded if he did.
“When we asked his name he said ‘Just call me the doctor. I’m the only one here.’ He told us he had a wife and a child in London.
“He spoke with a south London accent and said he had taken two years out from his work as an NHS doctor to fight jihad.”
Once, as John lay handcuffed in a tent, he overheard the 28-year-old â€” a senior member of the group â€” ring home. John added: “He was saying ‘Hello babes, how’s the little ‘un? Put him on for me, let me hear him’.”
The medic, whose al Absi organisation hopes to set up a fundamentalist Islamic state in Syria, also told John the experience he was getting would be good for his NHS career.
John said: “He wanted to specialise in trauma medicine when he returned to hospital. He said treating jihadists wounded in battle was good training.
“He had a pack of gauzes, medicines, IV drips and medical gear. Not things you’d pick up at Boots.”
The doctor even found time to grumble about NHS standards.
John said: “He told us the NHS is good if you’re in a serious accident.
“But if you’re on a hip replacement waiting list it’s terrible.
“He also told us about techniques to cool the brain, keeping it alive during major heart surgery. It wasn’t something he’d done but he was clearly professionally trained.”
The doctor was among between ten and 15 Brits at the terror camp just inside Syria’s border. Many of them were Londoners.
And when John tried to escape one of the Brits was among those who opened fire, wounding him and Jeroen.
John, shot in the elbow, said: “We ran one day while the camp was at prayer. We were still cuffed. We pulled our blindfolds off but had no shoes. Our feet were cut to shreds.
“They spotted us at 300 metres and shot my mate, him through the leg and me in the arm.
“Afterwards the Doc was the guy who treated us. “He stabilised Jeroen with saline drips, gave him antibiotics and stitched his wound. His assistant, another Londoner, bandaged my wounds. It was this guy who had shot at me as we tried to escape. He also smacked the butt of his AK-47 into my head after we were recaptured. Some of the Brits were vindictive. They wanted us dead.”
The doctor was no more sympathetic, delivering an ominous message. John said: “He came into the tent where I was handcuffed and blindfolded on the floor.
“The militants had smacked me about as they claimed I was the leader of the escape. He said, ‘I’m very disappointed in you, John. Before this you were going to be ransomed, but now I don’t know. I told you to have patience, that it would be OK. Now it will be bad’. It wasn’t much fun – expecting to end up on an execution video at the hands of extremists, one of whom was treating Londoners like me a few months ago.”
The next day a trestle table was laid out â€” and horrified John heard the sound of knives being sharpened for a beheading. But the execution was for two Syrians.
When they were eventually spared the doctor was outraged.
John said: “The Syrian prisoners were released after repenting and promising to follow Sharia law. The doc seemed annoyed. He said they should have been beheaded because they were spies.”
The doctor left the camp soon afterwards.Meanwhile, John was told he and Jeroen were to be exchanged for cash with an al-Qaeda group â€” once again raising the horrifying prospect that they would be beheaded.
But hours before the handover, after seven days in handcuffs and blindfolded under armed guard, John and Jeroen were rescued.
During their earlier aborted escape their guide had got away.
He had alerted the Free Syrian Army â€” the rebels fighting Assad’s forces. They overran the camp and released the two photographers. John has now described the mystery doctor in detail for an artist’s sketch â€” in the hope he can be identified.
The al Absi extremists are among a small number of fanatics who hope to subvert the revolt against Assad and turn Syria into a fundamentalist Islamic state.
Freelance John has travelled to Syria before to report on the uprising. He and Jeroen were caught while visiting a camp they had been to previously â€” unaware that al Absi had taken it over.
John suffered nerve damage to his arm and now has only limited movement in the fingers of his left hand.