US photojournalist recounts horror of captivity after escaping al-Qaeda in Syria
AFP – A US photojournalist who escaped from Syrian rebels after seven months in captivity revealed details of his ordeal Friday and spoke of his anguish at leaving a fellow hostage behind.
Matthew Schrier, 35, fled the clutches of a rebel group aligned to Al-Qaeda in July after being kidnapped while leaving the Syrian city of Aleppo on December 31 last year.
He finally escaped on July 29 after managing to sneak through a tiny opening in a window.
But a fellow American prisoner being held with Schrier was unable to escape through the gap because he was too big.
“It was one of the hardest things I had to do,” Schrier told CNN.
“It’s tough to move on because he’s still there. It hasn’t ended yet 100 percent. I’m not going to have closure until he’s home.”
According to the New York Times, Schrier is one of 15 Westerners who have been kidnapped or who have disappeared this year.
The experience of Schrier illustrates the increasing dangers for foreigners and moderate Syrians in the country, which has been ravaged by a vicious civil war for more than two years, with mounting numbers of heavily armed extremist groups on the ground.
Schrier, who was kidnapped after being betrayed by his taxi driver, said his captors had initially treated him politely. But his situation rapidly deteriorated as he was regularly tortured and ordered to admit he was a CIA spy.
He was stripped and beaten with a metal cable. Schrier’s captors also ran up debts with his credit card and extracted password information for his email accounts.
The captors posed as Schrier in emails sent to his relatives assuring them he was safe.
At the end of January, Schrier was transferred to another prison where he was kept with another American “who looked like he had been there for 100 years.”
He was interrogated by three young masked men who spoke perfect English. Schrier said he believed the three men were Canadians.
The two prisoners were tortured after they had been discovered trying to gouge a hole in a wooden door. Schrier had a car tire placed over his legs, was turned around face down and given 115 lashes on the soles of his feet with a metal cable.
He was repeatedly ordered to admit he was a CIA agent.
“I sat there and I was like, they’re just going to torture me until I say it,” he told CNN. “You’re going to say what they want you to say. I chose sooner than later.”