Wife of IS hostage David Haines: 'He is everything to us'
David Haines described as a "fantastic man and father" by his wife, with whom he has a four-year-old daughter
The wife of the British hostage David Haines has described him as “everything to us” in her first comments since terrorists threatened to behead him.
Mr Haines, 44, is a father of two described by his wife as a “fantastic man and father”.
He made his home in Croatia after spending five years helping local people, including Muslim families, rebuild their homes after the Balkans war, and the town of Petrinja, where he helped put up 800 houses, was “in shock” over his seemingly hopeless plight.
Mr Haines, who was born on Humberside but raised in Scotland, has a 17-year-old daughter by his first wife Louise and a four-year-old daughter by his second wife Dragana, who is Croatian.
Speaking at the family’s home near Zagreb, Dragana Haines, 44, said: “He's everything to us. He's our life. He's a fantastic man and father.
“Nobody can understand how we are feeling. My daughter keeps asking about him every day. She hasn't seen her father for a year and a half. She has gone through so much. She sees me crying all the time.
“My daughter was on a play date and I had to bring her home when I got the news.
“I just can’t digest it right now. We just don't want to do anything to endanger his life.”
Mr Haines and his wife, whom he met when she worked as his translator, were due to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary in November, having married in Croatia in 2010, when Mr Haines wore a kilt.
He was known as the “Crazy Scotsman” by locals whom he helped during several spells working for aid agencies in parts of Croatia torn apart by civil war.
When he worked for the German aid agency Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund from 1999 to 2004 Mr Haines’s landlady in the Croatian town of Petrinja was Nena Skoric, 67, to whom he affectionately referred as “Mama”.
Sitting at her kitchen table, surrounded by photographs and memories of Mr Haines, Mrs Skoric said: “To me, it was like God had sent David to this place.
“It didn't matter to him whether people were Croats, Serbs or Muslims, as long as they needed help.
“Many of the people from all sides had destroyed each other's houses during the war. There were many families who had lost everything.
“But they all loved David. For years after he left they would come here and ask how he was. He was such a good man and he was like one of my family.
“I don't know what is wrong with the kidnappers. Don't they know he was helping Muslims? They don't seem to care about that.”
Mr Haines helped “thousands” of local people as he led efforts to build new homes and schools for refugees returning to their shattered villages, and became so frustrated at the lack of available funds that he would donate a large slice of his salary to pay for materials and other essentials.
Every month for the past decade he had continued to send messages to his former landlady, until a year and a half ago when there was a sudden silence.
Although worried about his whereabouts, Mrs Skoric never realised he was in mortal danger until she saw the video released by Islamic State terrorists on Tuesday.
Since then Mrs Skoric, who once fought off a Serbian soldier with a knife during the war, has been having nightmares about the horrific footage.
"It was a terrible shock. I have been crying for two days since I found out what happened to him," she said.
"I thought 'not David, please not my David'.
"The whole town of Petrinja is shocked. People cannot believe it is true. We were hoping it must be someone else.
"Last night I woke up with the image of him kneeling in the desert wearing that orange suit. I can't get that picture out of my mind."
Although Mr Haines rented in Mrs Skoric's house for only around £200 a month, she said he would often offer to pay extra for his room and board.
When she refused, she would later find wads of cash hidden under ornaments or in other hiding places around the house.
Remembering the first time she met her lodger, Mrs Skoric said: "I saw a big Toyota car with an ASB sign outside my house, and a tall man got out and he was smiling.
"The first words he said to me were 'Hey, Granny, do you want to rent out your house?'
"I looked at him and I liked him straight away, so I said yes. Everyone always liked David as soon as they met him."
Each morning, Mr Haines would hold a briefing with his team around the kitchen table to tell them their jobs for the day. Yet he always led by example by travelling to villages to help the refugees himself, Mrs Skoric said.
"Once, he organised a donation of hundreds of beds from abroad. When he saw an old woman who didn't have a bed he would go and build it himself.
"David was a complete workaholic, so I used to tell him to take it easy. He insisted on justice, and on hard work, but he was never strict. Everyone liked him.
"And he always used to play jokes on me. Once he even got me drunk by pouring Scotch into my cola."
Mrs Skoric's house is in an area of Croatia where landmines still lie hidden in the soil, lethal relics of the Balkan wars.
In 2003, Mr Haines organised a charity concert in Petrinja called Music Against Mines, where many of the country's most famous singers performed.
A year later, he left for Knin, a town in southern Croatia, where he set up another office to help refugees in nearby villages.
When he left the country in 2004, his friends and colleagues organised a goodbye party to which Mrs Skoric was secretly invited.
She said: "When he saw me, he cried and said 'My Mama!" It was a lovely night.
"In the morning they took him to the airport, and everyone was crying. When he walked away, I jumped over the fence and he hugged me.”
Among the villages that Mr Haines helped to rebuild was Islam Grcki on Croatia's Dalmatian Coast, part of a region that saw fierce fighting from 1991-95. Ana Trzic, 60, recalled him visiting in 2000 and said: "It's terrible to hear to hear that such a fate has befallen such a good man. What is happening with the world of today?"
After leaving Croatia Mr Haines worked for aid organisations in Libya and South Sudan. He was working for a French aid agency at the Atmeh refugee camp in northern Syria when he was abducted on March 12, 2013.
Since the video of Mr Haines emerged, Mrs Skoric has been praying for his release and safe return to his family. But she believes his inner strength may help him endure and even escape his captivity.
"They will never break him, I am sure of that," she said.
"He is so strong, both physically and mentally. If I had a son, I don't believe that I could love him as much as I loved David.
"If I could, I would gladly swap places with him. I am old, I have lived my life. He is young and he helped thousands of people. He didn't deserve this."