In an interview that aired Monday on Fox News’s The Story with Martha MacCallum, American photojournalist Matt Schrier said he felt “betrayed” by the FBI under former directors Robert Mueller and James Comey after he was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Syria.
Schrier was taken hostage by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front group in Syria on New Year’s Eve 2012 as he was attempting to cross the Syrian border into Turkey. He was held captive and moved between different prisons for the next seven months, suffering hideous abuse and avoiding death only by hiding the fact that he was Jewish. His ordeal is detailed in his upcoming book The Dawn Prayer (Or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison): A Memoir.
“They caught me trying to escape a month and six days in, so they put a tire around my knees and they lock it in place by sliding a bar in the crook between the tire and your knee – the back of your knees. And they flip you over so your feet are in the air and you’re handcuffed … And they take a cable … about as thick as nightstick, and they whack your feet,” he recalled of one brutal incident.
Not only did the al-Qaeda Nusra Front kidnap and torture Schrier, but they also robbed him, forcibly extracting his passwords to everything from his credit cards to his social media accounts. Among other things, his captors purchased computers and tablets with his stolen identity.
Schrier’s complaint against the Obama-era FBI, headed first by Robert Mueller and then James Comey, is that it appeared much more interested in monitoring the Nusra Front’s transactions and computer activity than rescuing him. He said the Bureau misled his family about how much information they gathered during his captivity, and they proceeded from the assumption he was a willing participant in al-Qaeda’s activities rather than a prisoner.
Schrier found this especially outrageous given what his captors were buying with his stolen credit cards.
“I’d been kept in the dark for extremely long periods of times, I’m infested with bedbugs. Yet, according to the FBI, I’m speaking to people on my cell phone, I’m buying laptops and cologne and boots and sunglasses, maybe going into Turkey once in a while to get away from things, you know, just like all jihadis do, you know. ‘Cause Southern Turkey’s like the Hamptons, you know?” he sarcastically remarked to Fox News.
“So they’re monitoring my financial records straight off the bat. They’re letting them steal this money. Why are they letting them steal the money, what’s the angle? Well, what are they buying? They’re buying laptops and tablets. If they intercept them, they do their little spy thing and then they deliver them right into the hands of Al Qaeda and they create, basically, a dream come true for the intelligence community, a way to infiltrate the enemy like never before, without them even knowing it,” he postulated.
A 2013 New York Times interview with Schrier included the detail that his captors used his email account to send false assurances to his family and friends that he was doing fine and had decided to remain in Syria to do more work. Both Schrier and government officials who spoke to Fox News doubted that the FBI seriously believed either these stories or the theory that he was voluntarily working for al-Qaeda.
Schrier’s captors did not believe he was a journalist. They routinely accused him of being a CIA agent and forced him to make a videotaped confession. He eventually converted to Islam and was given a Koran to read.
The New York Times piece argued that one reason for the official confusion around Schier’s captivity is that he was passed between several different rebel groups in Syria, including one that was nominally allied with the Free Syrian Army, a group supported by the U.S. government.
Schrier eventually managed to squeeze through a window and escape into the war-torn city of Aleppo and found his way into the hands of a rebel group that delivered him to Turkish authorities.
When he returned to the United States, Schrier said he provided an extensive debriefing to the FBI and CIA. “I gave them more information than probably 50 informants could have given them,” he told Fox News.
Schrier was bitterly disappointed in the lack of assistance he received with putting his life back together as not only the victim of physical and psychological trauma but comprehensive identity theft as well. He mentioned to his Fox News interviewers that, even five years later, he still cannot obtain a credit card. He said that at one point his FBI case manager advised him to consider living in a homeless shelter.
Schrier said he and his family filed up to a hundred complaints with the FBI under both directors Mueller and Comey and were never given satisfactory answers. “I was emailing him questions. I was forwarding him all these emails. I was demanding answers from him. And I never got anything back,” he said of FBI Director James Comey.
According to Fox News, the FBI “did not dispute Schrier’s account” of his captivity and its aftermath but would not address specific questions because the Bureau considers his kidnapping to be an open investigation. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police may also be working a criminal case built around two tablets Schrier’s captors purchased with his credit cards and sent to a Canadian address.
“The FBI works closely with our federal partners not only to ensure that the U.S. Government does all that it can to safely recover Americans taken hostage overseas but to also assist victims who have been defrauded or further abused by a hostage-taker,” an FBI spokesperson insisted, even though that is exactly what the Schrier family says the FBI has not done in his case.
A 60 Minutes producer who interviewed Schrier in 2013 found him “tough” and “funny,” describing him someone who used humor to cope with the nightmarish stress of his captivity. The FBI appears to have discovered the outer limit of his sense of humor.