A surgeon accused of joining ISIS has appealed to patients he treated while working for the NHS to help bring him home from a jail in Syria as payment for the lives he saved.
Dr Muhammad Saqib Raza, 40, has spent more than a year locked up in a “hellhole” jail run by Kurdish forces a four-hour drive from Raqqa, the fallen capital of the IS caliphate.
Dr Raza, who has dual British and Pakistani nationality, bizarrely, claimed he was a “victim of anti-terrorism terrorism” as the Home Office had done nothing to get him back to the UK.
Now Syrian Democratic Forces are claiming victory over the last IS stronghold in Syria , as many as 300 Brits could now ask to be repatriated as the Islamic caliphate lies in ruins.
Talking to our reporter Paul Martin in the jail in northern Syria, Dr Raza sent a pitiful appeal to those he treated during his eight years as a facial surgeon with the NHS.
He said: “When you, my patients, wanted help, I treated you like you were my own family.
“Now I’m stuck in this prison hellhole and nobody cares.
“My patients, maybe you care. I beg you, patients of mine, to help me in return for what I did for you.
“I helped hundreds of you in Leicester, London, Bournemouth, Poole, Chelmsford and Oxford and other places in my eight years in the NHS as a facial surgeon.
“I beg you to raise your voices in protest and help get me home.”
The Home Office has refused to allow him back into the country under its policy on British civilians who entered the Syrian conflict zone.
Dr Raza, who has a four-year-old son, left his home, family and job in Leicester to go to Turkey in 2017 after reportedly becoming increasingly extreme in his Islamist views.
He claims he went from Turkey to Syria on a humanitarian mission to help in a Turkish-run hospital.
The eloquent doctor, who boast that he could earn £18,000 a month as a locum, claims to have been kidnapped on the Turkish border with Syria, and sold on to IS extremists, who then held him against his will.
He said: “In my cell I also heard the Coalition bombing, bombing, bombing and people dying, dying, dying.
“And I wished the bombs would kill me too."
He was captured in IS territory last year by Syrian Democratic Forces, who accused him of being a jihadi fighter.
But he claims he had just escaped from IS when the Kurds captured him outside Raqqa.
However, he admitted that when they searched him they found a laptop and 13,000 euros, for which he could give no explanation.
Kurdish intelligence officials believe that the computer and the funds were linked to his support for the IS fighters, which was the real reason for his presence in the country.
Before he left Leicester, where Dr Raza says he still owns a home, neighbours noticed him becoming increasingly religious, growing a long beard and dressing in Islamist clothing.
He was allegedly warned by the NHS Trust where he worked for trying to radicalise staff.
His wife, a Pakistani woman still living in Leicester, has divorced him since he left the country.
She declined to comment when we asked her about his radicalisation and asked us not to name her, fearing for her own safety.
Like Shamima Begum, who fled her home in Bethnal Green, London, when she was 15 years old to wed an IS fighter in Syria, Raza moans bitterly about being given no help to get back to the UK by the country he left.
Unlike Shamima, who only had British citizenship before it was stripped from her by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Dr Raza has dual citizenship and there is no obligation to help him bring him back into the UK.
He said: “The British government won’t even give me a chance to prove my innocence by bringing me back to England to see my documents and files.
“In fact, not even one British intelligence officer has come to interrogate me in my 419 days in a place that’s not fit for cats and dogs. I call on them, ‘Come talk to me’.”
Dr Raza says he can explain his presence on the Turkish-Syrian border after he had left the UK.
He claims that he had already split from his wife and he wanted to avoid paying a £200,000 settlement if they divorced so he decided to distance himself from the break-up.
Being close to a war zone, he said, he had planned a week-long trip to help the suffering people of Syria.
And perhaps to get some experience in treating war victims to enhance his CV.
“God made me a doctor and gave me a soft heart,” he said.
The surgeon, who trained in his native Pakistan, is paying the price now and listed his grievances with the forces who are holding him.
He demanded to know why he could not phone his family and why his father, a retired major, had been denied permission to visit him.
Dr Raza has another demand — to be moved out of the cell-block which he is sharing with the IS fighters.
He says that, in particular, he wants to get away from one British man, who he says he recognises.
He said: “I’m alongside a guy who I saw in IS territory. He was a feared intelligence officer. He is probably planning my death.
“This same man says he is the son of a British barrister or something.
“And despite his terrorist background he says he’s confident he can get back into England. People like him are very dangerous.”
He also criticised Shamima Begum, now 19, who has lost three babies since going to Syria, saying that to allow her to come back to the UK would be dangerous without rehabilitation.
He said: “She must be held responsible for a decision she made.
“Yes she was ‘only’ 15, but in the NHS we can allow consent (for operations) from people aged 12.”
More than 900 individuals from the UK became a security concern when they travelled to Syria to engage with the conflict.
Of these, the Home Office says approximately 20% have been killed and around 40% have since returned to the UK.
The majority of those who returned, did so in the early stages of the conflict.
They were investigated on their return.
Officials say a “significant proportion” of these individuals are assessed as no longer being of national security concern.
Yet officials continue to assess the risk of those currently being held in Syria.
Dr Raza compared his plight to that of John Cantlie, a British war photographer and correspondent.
Cantlie was kidnapped in Syria with James Foley in November 2012 and remains a hostage.
Raza said: “We doctors remained silent when Brits like John Cantlie faced the threat of death.
“I’m ashamed of that. But now my colleagues should break their silence and condemn what has been happening to me.”
He claimed he was being abandoned because of his religion.
He said: “My only crime is being a Muslim. If I was a Jew or a Christian, people would believe I was a humanitarian and not a terrorist.
“I would have been taken out of this hellhole. No-one hates those ISIS head-choppers more than I do.”
He sees a role for himself if and when he gets back to Britain — to educate people against joining IS or other hardline Islamic groups.
He said: “The longer I stayed in ISIS territory the more I realised how repulsive they are.
“If I could come home I could return to my beloved NHS.
“And I could help stop people from getting radicalised.”
He has not seen his four-year-old son Issa for more than half the boy’s life.
And he has changed his mind about separating from his wife.
He pleads for his wife — who we have agreed not to name — to forgive him, and take him back if he is ever allowed to meet her again.
Dr Raza said: “I’ve spent many months in these cells realising how much I love her.
“I beg her to let me back one day, though she has the right to reject me.”
He also feels rejected by the country he left behind.
He said: “I’m a son of England, but I’m losing faith in a nation that disowns its own.”
Many of the hundreds of captured foreign IS prisoners claim that they have never committed any crime.
Dr Raza said: “I think God is punishing me for tricking my wife.
“But now I see that no help coming, I want to die.
“For me, death is freedom.”
The Home Office has declined to comment on the case.
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