British minister says ISIS hostage John Cantlie still alive

Campaign says it continues to hope in seventh year of ordeal

FILE - This file image taken from video released on Wednesday Dec. 7, 2016 by the Islamic State's Amaq news agency, shows captive British photojournalist John Cantlie in what appeared to be central Mosul, Iraq. British Security Minister Ben Wallace told journalists on Tuesday Feb. 5, 2019, that the government believes British hostage John Cantlie is alive and believe he is being held by Islamic State operatives. (Islamic State's Amaq News Agency via AP, File)
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Britain’s security minister has revealed that the ISIS hostage John Cantlie is alive and remains in the terror group’s custody, the first confirmation of the status of the photographer who was kidnapped in 2012.

Ben Wallace, the Home Office minister, told a briefing that he would not go into details about Mr Cantlie’s whereabouts, more than six years after the 48-year old was captured in Syria.

Mr Wallace named Mr Cantlie as one of an unspecified number hostages as he reiterated official British policy that the UK does not negotiate or pay ransoms in kidnapping situations.

While the statement was impromptu it is likely that it is based on credible intelligence available to the UK authorities. The news of the minister’s comments led the Free John Cantlie campaign to express its hope that the journalist’s ordeal would be resolved.

“We are aware of the current news circulating that John Cantlie is alive, whilst this is not substantiated at present, we continue to hope and pray that this turns out to be true,” it said on Twitter. “Thank you for your continued support.”

Mr Cantlie’s fate has occupied minds as the footprint of ISIS territory has shrank inexorable. Patrick Shanahan, the acting US Defence Secretary, has said the total collapse of ISIS territorial control could be just weeks away and other western officials have said it has lost almost all the land it once held.

There have been reported sightings of Mr Cantlie within the past year emerging from coalition allies and others. Most recently the Syrian Democratic Forces militia, said Mr Cantlie had been spotted in eastern Syria according to news websites.

A handout photo taken in October 2012 and obtained courtesy of the Cantlie family shows British photojournalist John Cantlie at an undisclosed location in Syria. Cantlie was kidnapped together with one of the executed journalists, James Foley, in November 2012 in Syria. AFP PHOTO / COURTESY OF THE CANTLIE FAMILY
A handout photo taken in October 2012 and obtained courtesy of the Cantlie family shows the British photojournalist at an undisclosed location in Syria. AFP

Kidnapped alongside the American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by his captors in 2014, Mr Cantlie was forced into ISIS propaganda videos. In these he appeared on camera wearing orange jumpsuits. In one of the videos he appeared in Mosul, Iraq, standing in the rubble of the bomb-damaged city.

The most recent appearance came in 2016 in a video thought to have been shot in Syria.

His long disappearance has seen the Cantlie family appeal to his captors to return the correspondent to his native country. Mr Cantlie’s elderly father Paul made an emotional plea for his son’s welfare in 2014, just weeks before he died.

British officials refused to comment further. “We do not discuss individual kidnap cases and speculation is unhelpful,” a spokesman for the Home Office said.