A British hostage who was captured by the Islamic State group more than six years ago is thought to still be alive, the UK’s security minister has said.
John Cantlie, a photojournalist from Hampshire, was kidnapped in Syria in 2012. He escaped, but was recaptured again several months later.
He was seen in an IS video published in March 2016.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the news was a surprise to Mr Cantlie’s next of kin.
Previous statements by UK officials had hinted that the Briton was probably dead, and Security Minister Ben Wallace has not explained why he believes Mr Cantlie is still a captive.
There is no new evidence or intelligence to suggest he is alive, our correspondent said.
In a statement, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not discuss individual kidnap cases and speculation is unhelpful.”
The Free John Cantlie campaign said they hoped and prayed the latest reports were true.
Mr Cantlie is the last remaining UK hostage held by IS.
His work has appeared in newspapers including the Sunday Times, the Sun and Sunday Telegraph.
He was captured first in July 2012 but escaped with help from the Free Syrian Army.
He was then kidnapped for a second time when he returned to the country towards the end of 2012. It is believed he was with US journalist James Foley, who was later killed.
In March 2016, a video appeared online apparently showing Mr Cantlie. In the clip, said to be filmed in Mosul in northern Iraq, Mr Cantlie ridicules US attempts to destroy IS.
News reports in July 2017, published shortly after Mosul had been retaken by Iraqi forces, suggested Mr Cantlie had been killed.
Later that year, in October, French magazine Paris Match quoted an IS fighter who said he had seen Mr Cantlie alive and working for IS seven or eight months ago.
Reports in January this year quoted a Syrian Democratic Forces official as saying Mr Cantlie may still be alive and in Hajin, in the east of the country, where the last pocket of IS forces was being contained.