Former ISIL prisoner recounts torture in captivity

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Kobani native Jihad Mahmoud, 32, shares the story of his capture and torture by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'. [Photo courtesy of Jihad Mahmoud]

Kobani native Jihad Mahmoud, 32, shares the story of his capture and torture by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'. [Photo courtesy of Jihad Mahmoud]

Kobani native Jihad Mahmoud was detained by the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) for 257 days before being released in a prisoner swap with the Kurdish People's Protection Forces (YPG and YPJ).

During his detention, Mahmoud, 32, said he lived in constant fear of being killed, adding that news of the swap gave him hope that he would live to see his wife and infant daughter again.

After his release, he moved to the city of Malataya in Turkey.

In an interview with Al-Shorfa, he described the brutal circumstances of his detention.

Al-Shorfa : Describe how you were arrested.

Mahmoud : On February 19th, 2014, while on my way to my work in Iraq’s Kurdish region, I was stopped with a large group of travellers at a checkpoint controlled by ISIL in al-Hasakeh province, at the Aliya silo area, near the city of Ras al-Ain.

I later found out that the total number of people detained at that checkpoint was 155, including three women. ISIL then released the women with their men and a driver on the spot. All the detainees at that time were Kurdish except for one, who was Arab.

ISIL elements also seized 13 vehicles, along with all our money, which amounted to some $80,000.

Later that evening, following our detention, we were taken to prison in the city of Tal Abyad in al-Raqa province.

Two days later, the Arab detainee was released, and we were moved, blindfolded and bound, to an unknown place. We later realised this place was the power plant in the city of al-Thawra in al-Raqa province.

Al-Shorfa : Describe the interrogations you went through.

Mahmoud : At the very least these interrogations can be described as very brutal and were conducted by monsters who have nothing to do with humanity.

The first sessions took place after we were taken to the city of al-Thawra, where all forms of torture, beatings and humiliations were exercised against us.

ISIL elements killed two men in front of our own eyes to intimidate us. Interrogations and intimidation continued for six consecutive days. Questions varied, and included ones about the whereabouts of Kurdish military forces.

During these interrogations, our knowledge of Islam was tested. We were then divided into two groups. The first group included those who prayed, and consisted of 63 people. I was in that group. They told us that we would be released, but later said that we were put on a swap list.

The other group included those who did not pray, and consisted of 82 people. They were taken to al-Raqa province to be checked by the emir who was in charge of sharia-related matters. We stayed in the same place for one month.

Al-Shorfa : Were you tortured?

Mahmoud : Of course. I was beaten up throughout my detention.

The fiercest beating was in the city of Tal Abyad, two days after being detained. The second time was during the six-day period in al-Thawra. ISIL elements would beat us, either individually in the interrogation room or collectively in the room where we slept.

They were creative with their methods of torture. For example, they used electric cables, iron chains, plastic pipes and wooden sticks.

My body was abused, and when I was released, the signs of torture were still clearly visible.

Al-Shorfa : Who oversaw the interrogations and torture?

Mahmoud : During interrogations, the speakers were Arab nationals, but they would be changed continuously. They held various nationalities, and had foreigners with them who would speak in low voices and give them questions and wait for the answers to be translated. During torture, those of various nationalities took part in beating us.

Al-Shorfa : How were your conditions in the detention facility?

Mahmoud : We were 63 people detained in a 7-by-8 metre room. There were only a few covers. The room was very congested and there was just one bathroom. We did not see any sunlight, and there was no air in the room.

As for food, there was one meal a day that was not sufficient at all. We tried to share food among us in very small portions to suffice everyone. It was noticeable that ISIL elements feared entering the room. One of them would stand at the door and another would carry the food and place it near the door and they would leave quickly.

There were many sick and elderly people among us, but ISIL elements refused to treat them or provide them with the medication they needed.

Al-Shorfa : How did you and the other prisoners fare psychologically?

Mahmoud : During the first days of detention, I thought about death as inevitable because of what we had heard about ISIL criminality and executions.

However, as time passed, we were divided and told that we might be swapped with ISIL elements who had been arrested by the Kurdish forces.

Thinking about the swap was the only hope that kept me and other people strong in expectation of the promised day.

That period was very difficult because the swap fell through more than once. We were overwhelmed with disappointment, and we thought for some time that we would stay in captivity or that we would be executed.

Al-Shorfa : How were you released?

Mahmoud : On March 22nd, 2014, we were taken to the city of al-Mansoura in al-Raqa province. We stayed there until June 17th and were then taken to the city of Manbij. We were told that the swap would be made on June 20th.

We were assembled with some other detainees, and we were a total of 300 from the detention facilities of Manbij and al-Bab. On the expected day, we waited for long and difficult hours, but we returned hopelessly to the detention facility in the city of Manbij.

On July 11th there was another swap attempt. At that time, we were about 450 people, including some 250 students. We waited until sunset, but again returned to our dark prison without any hope.

We waited until November 1st, and in the same manner, we were taken to the city of al-Raqa, and two days later, on November 3rd, we were released.

As for remaining detainees, the 82 of the other group that did not pray, they are still missing. The latest news we heard about them was through a person who was released from prison in al-Raqa three months ago.

He confirmed to us that they were still imprisoned.

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