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UK: Photographer held by Daesh could be alive in Syria

John Cantlie, a photojournalist from Hampshire, was kidnapped in Syria in 2012
John Cantlie, a photojournalist from the UK, was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 [Twitter]

The British government believes a photographer held by Daesh for the past six years in Syria could still be alive, Britain's Security Minister Ben Wallace told reporters yesterday.

John Cantlie, a photojournalist from Hampshire, was kidnapped in Syria in 2012, alongside American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by so-called Islamic State fighters two years later.

Although he managed to briefly escape with the help of Syrian opposition fighters, he was recaptured again several months later and was last seen in a Daesh propaganda video filmed in 2016.

In the video, Cantlie walks around what is believed to be Mosul in northern Iraq, showing the damage caused by the US-led coalition's bombardment, and ridiculing their attempts to destroy Daesh.

Previous statements by UK officials had hinted that Cantlie, the last British hostage held by Daesh, was probably dead, and Wallace did not elaborate on why the government now believes he is still a captive.

The Free John Cantlie campaign rejoiced at the statement, stating on Twitter that they hoped the latest reports were true.

Washington-backed Kurdish militias on the ground that form the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have also expressed their belief that Cantlie is alive, with a senior official suggesting that he could be being held in the town of Hajin, in the east of the country, where the last pocket of Daesh forces is battling with the US-led coalition.

READ: Parents of US journalist missing in Syria appeal to US, Syria

However following the security minister's statement yesterday, senior Whitehall sources condemned the comments on Cantlie's case as "genuinely irresponsible", stating that his life could have been jeopardised by making the assertions publicly.

Senior government officials told the Telegraph that Ben Wallace had gone off message in speaking about Cantlie at the press conference, stressing that his whereabouts were still unknown by British intelligence, making public knowledge of his case highly premature.

"Our position on Mr Cantlie has not changed for some time. We genuinely do not know if he is dead or alive," a senior source said.

"But if he is alive it is genuinely irresponsible for Ben Wallace to make the comments he has because this could put his life in jeopardy. It could massively undermine any investigations. This could prompt his captors to move him, or even worse. It is a massive own goal by Ben Wallace. The threat on Mr Cantlie's life has increased exponentially."

According to the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, Syria remains the most dangerous country for journalists with 445 media professionals killed since 2011, by all sides in the fighting.

READ: US court fines Syria president $300m for killing of journalist

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