In February 2013, jihadists dressed all in black stopped two unidentified men at a Syrian checkpoint and on examining their IDs discovered they were Christians. The militants handcuffed the two men, threw them into the back of a truck and drove them to an undisclosed location some eight hours away.
One of the men was shot while in captivity, the other was eventually released after his family paid the $80,000 demanded by his captors. This man has now come forward with details of his treatment for the more than five months he was held hostage by the Islamic State before being freed, though some of the more gruesome aspects he requested not be published.
The man revealed recently in an interview with New York Magazine that his captors forced him to call his family and a friend while he was being tortured, in hopes that his anguished screams would move them to pay the ransom money.
“We were blindfolded and chained, and every day they would torture us,” he said. “They would come in, one at a time, and electrocute us or beat us with anything they could find.”
“But they didn’t kill me because they wanted to ransom me. One time, they made me speak to my family on the phone as they were electrocuting me. Then, they made me call a friend, who told them he would pay.”
The militants told him that if his family did not pay he would be killed, but only after he called his family to blame them for his death.
“Your family still hasn’t paid. In two days, if we don’t get the money, we will kill you,” the man recalls the militants telling him. “But before we do, we will make you call your family and tell them it’s their fault you are going to die.”
The hostage soon noticed common traits among his captors, despite their ethnic differences. What struck him particularly was their unquestioning loyalty to the authorities set above them and their willingness to carry out whatever was ordained.
“They’re brainwashed,” he said. “They don’t know anything except that there is a man called an emir, a man who is above them.”
“There were fighters from everywhere,” he said. “They were from France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia — there were so many foreigners. And the emirs would tell them, ‘God says you have to go out and kill.’”
Because the hostage was Christian, he was especially ill-treated, as his captors would blame him for crimes committed centuries ago.
“You killed Muslims in the Crusades,” they told him.
“Another told me I was from the pope’s army and I had killed Muslims in Spain. We would try to tell them it wasn’t true, that we weren’t like that. We’ve always lived next to Muslims in peace. We work together; we like each other. But these people want the world to be like them, and they kill everyone who isn’t,” he said.
The tortures were terrible, but after a while, it was the uncertainty of the confinement that weighed most on the man. “For a while,” he said, “I was terrified constantly. More and more, though, I was only afraid of the time passing. I had no idea how long they were going to keep me, and sometimes I wanted to die.”
Then one day, they told the man that his family had paid the ransom and that he was to be released.
“They threw us in the streets of Aleppo, near the Turkish border. My God, it was the most wonderful feeling I’ve ever had,” he said.
“There were Free Syrian Army soldiers. We went to them, and they took us to a church. I saw the cross and I thought, I’m alive,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter: @tdwilliamsrome