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Journalist Who Survived IS Prison Describes Psychological Abuse, Torture

Destruction in Aleppo following barrel bombing by Syrian government forces (file photo)

Destruction in Aleppo following barrel bombing by Syrian government forces (file photo)

A journalist who survived detention in an Islamic State (IS) prison in Syria has told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq about the horrific torture and psychological abuse to which he was an eyewitness.

Louay Abdul-Jood, a Syrian activist and journalist, was held by Islamic State gunmen for six months before being released earlier this year in a prisoner exchange deal between the Free Syrian Army and Islamic State in Aleppo.

He told Radio Free Iraq correspondent Manar Abdul-Razzaq that he and a cameraman for the French news agency AFP were abducted by Islamic State gunmen on November 28, 2013, in an Islamic State-controlled area of Aleppo.

“On November 28, 2013, the first explosive-filled drum was dropped on Aleppo, in an Islamic State-controlled district. I made my way to the site along with an AFP cameraman. It seems that someone recognized me as soon as we got there. They placed their silencer-equipped guns to our heads, bound us, and transferred us to the children's hospital,” Abdul-Jood said.

After a fellow journalist recognized Abdul-Jood and vouched for him, he and the AFP cameraman were bundled back into an Islamic State vehicle and driven to a prison about four or five hours away.

In the prison, Abdul-Jood says he recognized a number of other journalists. Thirteen of them were foreigners, including James Foley, he recalls.

Foley was executed by Islamic State in August.

Abdul-Jood says that the prison officials were foreign fighters from France, Tunisia, and Morocco, while a “Russian named Khaled” was responsible for torturing detainees.

“Most of the prisoners were not treated with beatings, but were mostly subjected to psychological methods: putting a knife close to your neck saying that you will be slaughtered. This treatment was long-term and had a greater effect than physical abuse,” Abdul-Jood told Radio Free Iraq.

Abdul-Jood’s Islamic State captors accused him of “being secular” and of belonging to the Free Syrian Army.

“They accused me of belonging to the Journalists Union and of being in a sinful relationship with a female activist whom I will not name,” he added.

While Islamic State militants subjected the captured journalists to psychological abuse, when Abdul-Jood and others were transferred to another prison they saw that nonjournalist inmates were subjected to extreme physical torture.

“For example, one man [was] hanging upside down and having his feet sliced with razors before putting alcohol on the cuts. They then put electric contacts into his wounds and then plugged them into an outlet,” Abdul-Jood recalled.

The prison used by Islamic State was originally a potato warehouse in an industrial area, Abu-Jood said. Prisoners were held there in isolation cells in total darkness.

“A man then enters and opens a window and says, ‘You will be killed, but not today. Tomorrow, God willing,’” said Abdul-Jood.

Abdul-Jood says that he was sentenced to death by a judge named Abu Ammar al-Massri, but the Syrian Free Army demanded he be returned as part of a prisoner exchange.

The Islamic State group has abducted a number of Syrian and foreign journalists in Syria and Iraq.

The militant group has executed two Western journalists -- Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- as well as two aid workers, Briton David Haines and an American, Abdul-Rahman Kassig.

Another British journalist, John Cantlie, remains a hostage and has been apparently forced to make a number of video addresses for the extremist group.

Local Syrian journalists are reportedly the majority of the estimated 22 journalists being held hostage by the Islamic State group, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Earlier this month, two Kurdish journalists were also reportedly captured by Islamic State militants on the Syria-Iraq border.

In Iraq, Islamic State militants have also targeted local journalists. The group beheaded four journalists in Iraq in November, according to reports. The four are thought to be among the 12 journalists abducted by Islamic State earlier that month.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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