John Cantlie

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Unidentified gunmen kidnapped John Cantlie, a British freelance photojournalist who contributed to The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph, along with U.S. freelance photojournalist James Foley when they were traveling in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib toward the border with Turkey on November 22, 2012, according to news reports.

According to an October 2014 New York Times report citing Mustafa Ali, a Syrian translator working with Cantlie and Foley, the journalists had stopped at an internet café to file their work on November 22, 2012, while on their way back to Turkey. While they were uploading their images, a bearded man walked in, looked at them, sat for a minute at the café and left. An hour later, they took a taxi to continue their journey to Turkey. While in the taxi, a van sped up on the left side of the taxi and cut it off. Masked fighters jumped out and ordered them in foreign-accented Arabic to lie in the pavement, the report said. They handcuffed them and threw them into the van. They left the translator behind and threatened to kill him if he followed them, according to the report.

On September 18, 2014, the militant group Islamic State released a propaganda video entitled “Lend me your ears,” that showed Cantlie dressed in orange and criticizing the U.S. and the U.K. for getting involved in yet another unwinnable war, and calling on them to change their policies on hostage-taking.

Cantlie appeared in a series of propaganda videos between September 2014 and December 2016, in different locations in Syria, including Aleppo and Ayn al-Islam, and Iraq, including Mosul, according to news reports.  In the last video, recorded in Mosul, Cantlie, who looks place and thin, criticized the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on the city, and the resulting civilian casualties and destruction of bridges, news reports said at the time.

Shortly after Mosul had been retaken by Iraqi forces in late July 2017, a report by Iraq’s Al-Sura News Agency, which cited interviews with three captured Islamic State fighters in Mosul, said that Cantlie was killed during the battle, news reports that picked up the story said.

The French magazine Paris Match in October 2017 cited a French Islamic State fighter, whose name is Abou Sakr Al-Ambari, as saying that he had seen Cantlie alive in Raqqa seven or eight months earlier, while the operation to retake Mosul was underway, and that he was working for Islamic State, interviewing prisoners about their conditions in jail. “[Cantlie] presented me with a pass on which I immediately recognized the green stamp of Baghdadi himself,” Al-Ambari was quoted as saying.

As of mid-2019, the last video showing Cantlie had been published in early December 2016.

Cantlie was previously abducted by foreign jihadists shortly after he crossed into Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on July 19, 2012, along with Dutch photojournalist Jeroen Oerlemans, according to news reports. He was released a week later by the Free Syrian Army, according to the same reports.

On February 5, 2019, British Security Minister Ben Wallace said during a news conference that the British Government believed that Cantlie was alive, but declined to give details of his whereabouts or produce any evidence to support that assertion, according to news reports.

The Free John Cantlie Campaign, a support group run by Cantlie’s family, acknowledged Wallace’s comments on Twitter, but said that the rumors remained unsubstantiated.

News reports said in February 2019 that Cantlie was among the foreign hostages that the Islamic State was holding in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, where the militant group was making its last stand in Syria.

On March 22, 2019, the Syrian Democratic Forces retook Baghouz, according to news reports, but no updates have emerged regarding Cantlie’s whereabouts.

The Free John Cantlie Campaign did not reply to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via social media.