Intelligence services were last night trying to trace an NHS doctor who was part of a terror cell that kidnapped and shot a British photographer in Syria.
Photographer John Cantlie
The AK-47-wielding medic is part of an extremist gang that held veteran war photographer John Cantlie and a fellow western journalist hostage for a week.
A heavily bearded Islamic fanatic, he told his prisoners he had taken a sabbatical from his NHS job to wage a ‘holy war’ in Syria. He also told them that he was planning to return to his senior post in a South London A&E department.
Last night the General Medical Council said it would be investigating Mr Cantlie’s account.
A spokesman said: ‘Protecting patients is our priority. We are looking very closely at these allegations.’
Mr Cantlie, 41, was captured last month with Dutch colleague Jeroen Oerlemans while they were covering the civil war between President Assad’s army and rebel fighters.
As he tried to flee in a botched escape attempt, Mr Cantlie was shot in the arm but was later treated by the doctor, who was using a clearly labelled NHS medical kit.
When asked his name, he told the captives: ‘Just call me the doctor – I’m the only one here.’
The medic, who said he was 28 and had a wife and child in Britain, was also among the leaders of a group who were planning to behead ‘spies’ and was furious when the execution of two Syrians he believed to be undercover agents was halted.
It comes just days after the intelligence services warned that dozens of Britons, many thought to be of Pakistani origin, were going to Syria to wage jihad, or holy war. The concern is that they will return to the UK radicalised and pose a security problem.
Mr Cantlie told the Daily Mail of his British captor: ‘When he told me he was an NHS doctor, I thought it was weird.‘This is a man who has taken an oath to save people and help them, and here he is walking around with a Kalashnikov and preaching sharia law. There are not any doctors who I know that do that.
‘He clearly believed in what he was doing but to follow something to that extreme is the disturbing thing. He was visibly upset when the execution was called off.’
In a macabre twist, the doctor, who spoke in a South London accent and kept his face covered with sunglasses and a scarf – said he was glad of the experience in Syria as when he returned to Britain he wanted to specialise in trauma injuries.
Mr Cantlie added: ‘He said treating jihadists wounded in battle was good training and had a pack of gauzes, medicine, IV drips and medical gear.
‘As he treated the gunshot wound in my arm, he clearly knew what he was doing. He was very well-trained.’
Mr Cantlie and his colleague were captured when they went to a camp they had previously visited, unaware that terrorists had since taken it over.
He said of the doctor: ‘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 said he would be beheaded if he did.
‘He said, “I can’t be in here too long because the other guys say I’m too nice to you”.’
The doctor, who is believed to be of Pakistani descent, was among around 15 British nationals at the terror camp, just inside Syria’s border, many of whom had London accents. They were part of a 40-strong cell called Al Absi, which aims to convert Syria to sharia law.
When Mr Cantlie tried to escape on the second of his seven days in captivity, one of those who opened fire was British, wounding him in the elbow and his Dutch friend in the leg.
He said: ‘Afterwards the doctor was the guy who treated us.
‘He stabilised Jeroen with saline drips, that had NHS logos, gave him antibiotics and stitched his wound. His assistant, another Londoner, bandaged my wounds. This guy 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.’
He said that after this, the doctor ‘came into the tent where I was handcuffed and blindfolded. 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, to Mr Cantlie’s horror, he saw a trestle table being erected and heard knives being sharpened, but later learned these were for two Syrians who were eventually spared after repenting and promising to follow sharia law.
He added: ‘The doctor was annoyed. He said they should’ve been beheaded because they were Syrian spies.’
Throughout his ordeal, Mr Cantlie was kept handcuffed in a tent. On one occasion he heard the doctor on the phone to his family.
He added: ‘He was saying, “Hello babes, how’s the little ‘un? Put him on and let me hear him”.’ At another point, he even complained to his hostages about the state of the NHS.
‘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,’ Mr Cantlie said.
Both photographers eventually managed to escape from the camp in Northern Syria with the help of the Free Syrian Army, the rebels fighting Assad’s forces.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Cantlie, who has suffered nerve damage in his left arm and now has only limited movement in his fingers, said he was still eager to return to Syria to report on the war despite his traumatic experience.
He said: ‘I am itching to get back out there. The only thing stopping me is my cameras, as I lost them out there and need to buy some more.’
Do you know the doctor? Call the Daily Mail news desk on 02079386059
The Daily Mail (UK), 26 August, 2012.