Islamabad: Piotr Stanczak did not exhibit the slightest hint of hesitation when the Pakistani Taliban asked him to choose between execution and conversion to Islam.
Whether the Polish geologist acted out of pride or religious conviction, he decided to pay through his blood to save his faith, a choice that bewildered his killers and keep them talking about him with respect after his murder.
Stanczak, 42, was kidnapped Sep 28 on his way to survey for oil exploration in Attock district, of Pakistan's eastern province of Punjab. The kidnappers also killed his driver and two guards.
Militants released a gruesome seven-minute video in early February showing his beheading. One of the murderers blamed the Pakistani government which failed to accept their demands for the release of detained militants.
Warsaw reacted angrily, slammed Islamabad's "apathy" in tackling terrorism and offering a $300,000-reward for information leading to the capture of the Taliban militants who beheaded Stanczak.
Among the militants whose release was sought by the Taliban was Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-Pakistani who was sentenced to death for the 2002 abduction and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl.
When negotiations between the representatives of the Pakistani government and the hostage-takers failed, the Taliban leadership gave the Polish man a last chance to save himself, Stanczak's captors revealed to another hostage, a Pakistani man Mohammad Amir.
Amir, a pseudonym as he asked for anonymity to avoid possible repercussions, was released recently after his family paid 1 million rupees ($25,000) to agents of Taliban commander Tariq Afridi.
Afridi heads a small group of Taliban in the Orakzai tribal district and is loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of local Taliban who has a $5 million bounty on his head for being an al-Qaeda facilitator. Pakistani troops have recently been ordered to take decisive action against Mehsud.
In an interview with DPA in Attock, Amir said he was kept in the same cell where Stanczak was held for a month before the Polish man was decapitated. Amir said Taliban soldiers guarding the two-storey prison building in South Waziristan, a lawless tribal district bordering Afghanistan, frequently chatted with him and one day they mentioned the abduction and killing of Stanczak.
"Our people were keeping an eye on his (Stanczak) movements for several months. We were expecting that we could exchange some of our mujahideen in the government's custody for him," Amir quoted a guard as saying.
Because Stanczak was a high-profile target, the Taliban made extensive preparations to kidnap and shift him to a safe place from Attock, some 100 km from Islamabad.
"You know the Indus river lies between Attock and North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) and our people could not use the bridge to cross it because it is heavily guarded. So we bought a boat to transport Piotr across the border," the guard, who identified himself as Abdullah, told Amir.
From NWFP, Stanczak was moved to the Tirah Valley of the adjoining Khyber tribal district, and a month later to the Taliban's stronghold of South Waziristan, a 14-hour drive through muddy mountain tracks.
"Piotr never showed any sign of nervousness or fear. He would finish the food we gave him and sleep well. We all admired his courage. It was not an easy decision even for our commander to kill Piotr," Abdullah said. "That's why he gave him a last chance."
"But he was very stubborn and refused our goodwill gesture to save his life," Abdullah was cited as saying by Amir.
"Piotr said first we should release him. He will go back to his country, consult his family and read about Islam and only then decide about converting to Islam.
"This surprised everyone but we had to kill him because principles are principles - we gave him a chance and he lost it," the guard told Amir. "But undoubtedly he was a brave man."