Beheaded by IS militants: Henning, a former taxi driver anxious to help in Syria

LONDON - British aid worker Alan Henning travelled to Syria to help victims of a vicious civil war but became himself a casualty of the conflict's brutality at the hands of Islamic State fighters.

Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed late Friday the "brutal murder" of Henning by IS militants who released a video showing the apparent beheading of the British hostage.

In the video, almost identical to those released after three previous murders, a masked IS militant also threatens a hostage he identifies as an American, Peter Kassig.

The video, found online by the SITE private terrorism monitor, opens with a news report about the British parliament's vote last week to authorise air strikes against militant targets in Iraq. Then it cuts to Henning, on his knees against a desert backdrop and wearing an orange prison-style outfit, with a masked militant standing over him wielding a combat knife.

Henning explains to camera that, as a member of the British public, he is being made to pay the price for the parliamentary vote. Then the militant, who has the same British accent as the killer in a previous IS video of the death of British hostage David Haines, directly addresses Cameron.

"The blood of David Haines was on your hands, Cameron. Alan Henning will also be slaughtered, but his blood is on the hands of the British parliament," he declares, then cuts the hostage's throat. After the beheading the video cuts to a similar scene in which the killer introduces a man as Kassig, an aid worker in his twenties who had gone missing after heading to the region.

"Obama, you have started your aerial bombardment in Sham, which keeps on striking our people," the militant says, using the Arabic term for Syria and the Levant. "So it is only right that we continue to strike the necks of your people."

The video ends with the second hostage apparently unharmed. Previous IS victims have been threatened in this way before appearing around two weeks later in videos of their murders.

A peaceful, selfless man

The 47-year-old left behind his wife and two teenage children late last year to drive with an unofficial humanitarian aid convoy to help internally displaced people in the war-ravaged nation.

His wife Barbara has called her husband "a peaceful, selfless man" who left his job as a taxi driver in Manchester, north-west England, "to help those most in need".

"When he was taken, he was driving an ambulance full of food and water to be handed out to anyone in need. His purpose for being there was no more and no less. This was an act of sheer compassion," she said.

"I cannot see how it could assist any State's cause to allow the world to see a man like Alan dying," she added.

Nicknamed "Gadget" for his love for new technology, he was not a professional aid worker, but friends and colleagues said he was touched by the suffering of Syria's civilian population.

He joined a group of Muslim friends who founded the charity "Rochdale Aid4Syria" and travelled to Syria once or twice before.

Catrin Nye from the BBC Asian Network, who met him before his final trip, said he had "Aid4Syria" tattooed on his arm.

She described him as a "very likeable" and "funny" man "inspired" by friends who had been to Syria.

"He had been into a refugee camp and it had been a life-changing experience," she said.

"He described holding the children... and how that really affected him. He told me he had to go back."

His friend Mohamed Elhaddad, company director of the UK Arabic Society, said Henning was "good at DIY and... a useful person to have on the trips."

Alan was a man who was "full of compassion", said Kasim Jameel, a friend and fellow taxi driver from the Manchester area, who also helped organise the convoys, The Times newspaper reported.

Jameel said Henning had insisted on taking part in the convoy instead of spending the New Year holidays with his family.

"I could tell a lot of stories about the good that Alan has done and about how, as a non-Muslim, he has helped Muslims who have suffered in the conflict," he said.

Henning also took an active role in helping to raise the funds to buy the medical equipment and food aid he was bringing over.

The convoy left Britain on Dec 20 and was stopped shortly after crossing over from Turkey, the reports said.

"They put everyone in a room and started to question people. They were speaking English because no one on the convoy spoke Arabic," a friend told The Times on condition of anonymity.

"They were a mixture of Libyans and Algerians and they gave Alan a hard time because he was not a Muslim," he said.

Other men who had been travelling with Henning were released.

Several British papers said he was then taken to Raqqa in northern Syria which Islamic State claims as its capital.

After his capture, Henning reportedly told other hostages "don't worry about me", saying he would be free "in no time because I'm just an aid worker".

Indeed, his wife claimed to have assurances that he had been cleared in a Sharia court of being a spy.

His plight led to tens of imams from across Britain calling on IS extremists for his release.

"Anyone undertaking a humanitarian act is paving his or her way to receive help from heaven," they wrote in a letter sent to the Independent newspaper.

"In contrast, the senseless kidnapping and despicable threats to Mr Henning cannot be justified anywhere in the Quran."

His wife also revealed that she had recently received audio footage of her husband begging for his life.

But the pleas fell on deaf ears, and the worst fears of Henning's family and friends were realised on Friday with the release of a video which appeared to show his execution and the confirmation of his death by the British government.