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- Volunteer Keith Day As soon as we touched down, things didn't seem right. We were the only Westerners for miles and were being swept into Syria towards IS road blocks. If we crossed, we would have been taken; REVEALED TERRIFIED SCOTS AID WORKERS QUIT CONVOY DAYS BEFORE KIDNAP Brothers tell of escape from Jihadi snatch squads.

Byline: George Mair

Aid workers from Scotland say they narrowly escaped being kidnapped by Islamic State fanatics after joining a mission run by the same charity as hostage Alan Henning.

Keith and Mike Day quit their mercy journey shortly after landing in Turkey as they feared they were putting themselves in danger of being taken by jihadis.

The pair were with the same charity as 44-year-old Salford taxi driver Alan, who became the latest hostage paraded at knifepoint in horrific IS video footage released last week.

Their mission with the UK Arabic Society came in October last year - less than two months before Alan was taken.

Keith, 54, from Bridge of Allan, Stirling, and Mike, 59, from Dollar, Clackmannanshire, were part of a group taking former NHS vehicles from Britain to refugee camps in northern Syria, alongside Alan's friend Mohamed Elhaddad.

They spent 10 days near the Syrian border, securing the vehicles and arranging their passage from Turkey when IS were sweeping through parts of the country.

But as the trip descended into chaos, they feared they would be taken hostage by jihadis so turned back, leaving their Muslim colleagues to complete the final leg into Syria.

Keith said: "When we arrived in southern Turkey, we were the only Westerners. They booked us in to a hotel that turned out to be a brothel and we were warned not to speak to any English people because there were fighters coming in and out of Syria.

"We heard there were IS road blocks on the other side of the border. There was some encouragement for us to finish the job we had started and cross into Syria but we would have been sitting ducks.

"We are certain that, if we had crossed the border, we wouldn't have made it past the first one."

Mike said: "I feel incredibly sorry for Alan because I know how easy it was for him to fall into this. But for the grace of God, it could have been us."

Both brothers have been interviewed by anti-terror police since returning.

The convoy was organised by Mohamed, whom they had met on an aid trip to Gaza in 2009. Mohamed, director of the UK Arabic Society, had already sent 300 ambulances to Syria and organised 18 convoys during the conflict.

The ambulances were loaded up near Birmingham and dispatched by sea in containers on vessels sailing from Felixstowe to Icel in southern Turkey.

Keith and Mike then flew to the Turkish city of Adana, where they were meant to be met by a delegation from Syrian refugee camps, Turkish facilitators and Libyan charity representatives.

The brothers planned to travel to the port of Icel to collect the ambulances, which they and others would drive to Reyhanli, a mile from the Syrian border.

They were then due to help take the ambulances over the border to refugee camps at Atama, Adna, Mountain Arab and Turkiman.

Keeping one vehicle, they and other aid workers would then drive to a wholesaler in Turkey with a list of food required by the refugee camp organisers and cash they had raised before leaving Scotland. They would complete as many trips as possible to spend all the cash before going home.

Keith said: "The plan was to drive into Syria and ensure the vehicles reached the people who needed them. But almost as soon as we touched down, things didn't seem right.

"Not long after we arrived, we decided to find a better place, rent our own car and keep some distance from the group.

"We kept in touch with them by phone and went with them to the port to collect the ambulances. The ambulances were in my name and we also had the paperwork and keys to the vehicles.

"We felt obliged to do what we had set out to do and there was some persuasion to get us to cross the border but things that were supposed to happen didn't and it left us wondering what would happen next. We hadn't met the delegation, the vehicles had taken days to be released by the port authority and we were then told we would be staying in a house on the Syrian border prior to going over.

"We started to have niggling doubts and lost faith in the group.

"We also felt there was nothing to be gained from putting ourselves at risk. Even the aid agencies were employing Syrian people to deliver the aid. And we'd heard there were IS roadblocks.

"Mohamed warned us, 'If you see English guys, don't talk to them because they are all fighters'. We were the only Westerners for miles and an obvious target for kidnap.

"We were constantly thinking about potential escape routes. We even drove towards the border to check the road. We discovered miles of traffic heading into Syria on the dual carriageway with no obvious way of turning back.

"We eventually found a gap and turned around before we were swept into Syria. If we had been in the convoy - if we hadn't rented our own car - we would have had no choice but to go into Syria."

Alan was captured on Boxing Day last year - 10 minutes after he crossed the border from Turkey into Syria.

The dad-of-two, from Eccles, near Manchester, was part of a team of volunteers travelling from Britain to deliver aid when he was taken hostage.

Nicknamed "Gadget" for his fondness of technology, Alan was the only non-Muslim in the convoy.

Video footage showed the 47-year-old kneeling in the desert, wearing an orange jumpsuit. His captors, who beheaded Scots aid worker David Haines, from Perth, threatened he will be their next victim.

Mike, a photographer who spent four years in the Army in Northern Ireland, said: "The convoy to Gaza was an incredible experience. But this was a disaster. We transported the ambulances by ship but I think Mohamed went back later and organised another by road. They went in December and I believe that was the one Alan was on.

"Alan should have been persuaded not to cross the border. It sounds like he was picked up at the first roadblock just two or three kilometres into the country.

"We were close to the border for 10 days and never saw another Westerner. We believe if we had gone over, we too would have been kidnapped."

Mohamed, from Leicester, said he did not wish to comment on the Syria trips.

Majid Freeman, who accompanied Alan into Syria, issued a message to his friend's captors, saying: "Please show him mercy and understand he is a humanitarian aid worker - he is not a fighter."

We believe that if we had crossed the border, like Alan Henning, we too would have been kidnapped


MISSION Keith with NHS ambulance

CONVOY Trucks wait to enter Syria and, right, aid worker Alan Henning. Far right, Alan and group leader Mohamed before Syria trip

RISKING HIS LIFE Keith Day in Reyhanli, Turkey, about a mile from the border with Syria
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Sep 21, 2014
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