Former Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) hostage Nicolas Henin, 39, spoke out recently about his ten months with the jihadist group. He told the BBC the militants enjoyed Teletubbies and Game of Thrones. He also claimed there were some who could not come to terms with the blood the group spills on an almost daily basis.
“I noticed that these jihadists have little to do with the local culture — Arab or Muslim culture — they are children of our societies,” explained Henin. “They speak our language, they have the same cultural references we do. They watch the same movies as us, play the same video games our children play. They are products of our culture, our world.”
The interview was based on the children’s book Will Daddy Hedgehog Ever Come Home?, which Henin and fellow hostage Pierre Torres, 30, developed while in captivity. Former British hostage David Haines helped develop the story as well. The Islamic State beheaded him in 2014. From the BBC:
“The aim was to say which animal portrays you best,” Henin told me. “I spoke about being a hedgehog. I liked the idea of [having] good protection – even though the protection of a hedgehog is totally stupid.”
To protect himself in captivity, he says, he used the same “totally stupid” technique: “I would make [myself into] a ball.”
But then, in terms of protection, “nothing ever really worked. As a hostage, you’re just a puppet.”
He did not speak to the network about Jihadi John, the man in the beheading videos, since the group still holds British journalist John Cantlie. The group uses him as a host in propaganda videos in an attempt to convince viewers life under the Islamic State provides flourishing opportunities and people are taken care of. Yet interviews with defectors show people that residents in the caliphate live in poor conditions.
Henin was held with British aid worker Alan Henning and Americans James Foley, Stephen Sotloff, and Peter Kassig. The Islamic State murdered all of them in 2014. The prisoners, including Cantlie, held a small ceremony for Russian engineer Sergey Gorbunov after he was killed.
Even though the militants slaughter those who stand in their way, Henin did see “flickers of doubt” within the jihadists considering the fact “they had to justify it to themselves, and some of their acts [were] impossible to justify.” Some militants wanted to help their victims.
“These are fragile people,” he insisted “As soon as they arrive, [their recruiters] hook them and push them to commit a crime, and then there is no way they can turn back. I remember with a couple of [the captors], we had discussions that showed their convictions were a bit fragile and that they maybe even had regrets about what they were doing.”
“[Asking for pity] is the worst thing you can do. It’s stupid. Never try it.”
His book Will Daddy Hedgehog Ever Come Home? is scheduled for publication this week. Henin dedicated the book to his five-year-old daughter.