Middle East

British man charged over Syria journalist kidnappings

FILE - A man walks towards destroyed buildings following shelling by regime forces in the northern city of Aleppo on October 16, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/TAUSEEF MUSTAFA)

LONDON: British police on Tuesday charged a man with kidnapping two Western journalists in Syria, one week after he was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport, Scotland Yard said.

Shajul Islam, 26, is alleged to have "unlawfully and injuriously imprisoned" photographers John Cantlie from Britain, and Jeroen Oerlemans from the Netherlands, between July 17 and 26, it said in a statement.

Islam, who is a British national, acted "together with others," it said.

He will appear in court on Wednesday.

A 26-year-old woman who was arrested at the same time has been released without charge. She has not been named.

The man and the woman were detained by officers from the counter-terrorism command on October 9 after arriving on a flight from Egypt. Officers also searched two homes in east London.

Cantlie and Oerlemans were abducted by suspected Islamist militants while covering the fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and rebel fighters.

They both suffered gunshot wounds when the Free Syrian Army, the main rebel movement, freed them from their captors.

The journalists said that between 10 and 15 of the kidnappers were British while others were from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Cantlie said one of them told him he was a doctor in Britain.

Shortly after his release, Cantlie described how he and his colleague were regularly threatened with death.

"It was inferred that we would meet our god," he told the BBC. "We had sowed the seeds of our own destruction. We would be shot or beheaded.

"At one point they even started sharpening knives for a beheading. It was pretty frightening.

"When you're held captive, you're blindfolded and you have a guy sticking a gun at your head, it's very real," he added.

The photographer entered Syria from Turkey, the same route he had used previously, but was detained after passing through a militant camp.

"Their attitude was they were united under the Islamic flag, the wish to follow Sharia law, that they had come to Syria to fight the Assad regime, that Assad himself wasn't a true Muslim, but after that it was about imposing Sharia law on the Syrian people," he said at the time.

Syria said on Tuesday that it was interested in exploring a proposal by the UN and Arab League peace envoy for a truce later this month even as it unleashed multiple air strikes on rebel positions on a key highway.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pre-dawn air raids around Maaret al-Numan were the "most violent" since insurgents captured the strategic town on the Damascus-Aleppo road last week.





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