UK

David Bolam freed: Libya hostage's release welcomed

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Media captionIn a video posted online in August, Mr Bolam appealed to Prime Minister David Cameron to secure his release, as Richard Galpin reports

The release of a British teacher held hostage in Libya since May has been welcomed after he returned to the UK.

David Bolam was "safe and well" after his release, the Foreign Office said.

Shropshire MP Philip Dunne said he was "absolutely delighted that David Bolam has returned home to his family in Craven Arms" and the UK's ambassador to Libya also said he was delighted.

It is thought the 63-year-old's release was secured by local political factions and that money changed hands.

Mr Bolam's kidnapping had not been reported at the request of the Foreign Office and his family.

Image copyright Ged O'Connor Challis
Image caption Mr Bolam was vice-principal at the International School Benghazi when he was kidnapped

Ambassador Michael Aron tweeted: "Delighted Benghazi Head Teacher David Bolam has been released after over 4 months in captivity."

Mr Dunne, a defence minister, said he had been in touch with Mr Bolam's family during his ordeal.

He added: "David is a dedicated English teacher who had returned to Benghazi to help rebuild the international school of which he was a director, after he had been evacuated during the Arab Spring.‎

"He was trying to help young people in Libya gain a good education."

Video plea

Mr Bolam, who flew back to the UK on Thursday night, had been working in Libya for seven years.

He was seized by gunmen in May at a checkpoint in Benghazi.

He had appeared in a video posted online on 28 August published by a group calling itself the Army of Islam.

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Media captionWhy was Mr Bolam freed? Counter-terrorism expert Dr Evan Lawrence explains

Wearing a white T-shirt and sitting in a concrete room, he appealed to Prime Minister David Cameron to secure his release.

He said he was in good health and had been held "a very long time".

BBC world affairs correspondent Caroline Hawley said she understood demands for a ransom had been made to the school and that money was handed over to secure his release.

She said it was "unclear" how much money was paid and who paid it, but the Foreign Office was not involved in the negotiations.

Benghazi - where the uprising against Muammar al-Gaddafi began - is now a chaotic place "where Islamist militias and criminal gangs abound," she added.

News of Mr Bolam's release comes after a number of hostages held by Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq were killed.

In recent weeks, IS has released videos showing the apparent beheading of two US journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

Image copyright PA/BBC
Image caption Britons Alan Henning and David Haines were killed by Islamic State militants

Charlie Cooper of counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation said the difference between the treatment of Mr Bolam and Mr Henning was "indicative of the huge difference between other jihadist groups and Islamic State".

He told BBC Breakfast: "Islamic State is profoundly more extreme in its outlook and in its ideological motivations."

'Massive gunfight'

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are glad that David Bolam is safe and well after his ordeal, and that he has been reunited with his family.

"We have been supporting his family since he was taken."

Ged O'Connor Challis taught at the international school along with his wife Siobhan until December 2013, so had left by the time Mr Bolam was abducted in May.

He said he had spoken to Mr Bolam on the phone on the morning he was kidnapped, and school staff later said "one of the local militias had grabbed David as he went out shopping".

Mr O'Connor Challis, who now lives in Manchester, said Mr Bolam stayed in Libya when other staff left because he "believed in what he was doing".

"He is single-minded and stubborn," he said.

"He is a very bright person. He is an English teacher - one of the best I have ever met."

Teachers had wanted to stay at the school, Mr O'Connor Challis said, but a "massive gunfight" in November 2013 and the fatal shooting of teacher Ronnie Smith in December were part of growing violence which convinced many to leave.

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