Horror stories have begun to emerge in the wake of the freeing of several hundred captives of the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Aleppo.
Other terrorist groups from the so-called Free Syrian Army, the extremist Islamic Front, and several independent groups have been locked in a campaign against the hardline Al-Qaeda militants of ISIL over the past week.
Wednesday’s rebel capture of a central detention facility used by ISIL in Aleppo – a children’s eye hospital in the neighborhood of Qadi Askar – led to freedom for several hundred people, who have begun to tell their stories of captivity.
Two eight-minute videos posted on YouTube by media activists from the city featured interviews with former captives of the militant group.
In one, Milad Shehabi, a prominent media activist who was himself detained last month, said he spent his first 13 days of captivity blindfolded, and in solitary confinement in a 1-by-1.5 meter room.
“They stamped on me their military boots. They stepped on my neck with a military boot, and said, ‘you dogs, you want a revolution?’” Shehabi recalled.
He said at one point, prisoners would voice their hope that the detention facility would be bombed by government aircraft to end their ordeal.
“We’d pray for the planes to hit us, to release us from this torture … revolutionaries since the beginning of the uprising, and this is what happens to us?”
He said that he later became aware that the facility contained 11 holding cells, each with 20 to 35 detainees.
In addition to civilian detainees, some of whom were minors, various members of rebel groups fighting in Syria were taken prisoner for various periods of time by ISIL militants, he said.
In the other video, several former prisoners detailed their experiences.
One said he is a Free Syrian Army commander from Maaret al-Numan, who was taken prisoner after organizing a demonstration late last month, demanding that ISIL release a leading FSA commander.
Another captive said he was taken solely because he was carrying an identification card from the Ahfad al-Rasoul rebel battalion.
He said his ISIL captors taunted him with accusations such as “You’re Grandsons of the Devil.”
The former prisoners tell their interviewer of how various categories of detainees were summarily executed, sometimes in front of them.
“They took a 15-year-old boy, and accused him of being a shabbih [pro-regime thug],” one man said.
“They pulled out his fingernails, and got him to finally confess to raping three women – a 15-year-old, only this tall,” the man said, gesturing to indicate the ridiculousness of the charge.
“Two Kurds were tortured and accused of being members of the PKK,” another detainee said, referring to the Kurdish party operating in Turkey. “They never confessed … One of them was shot right in front of us; they put a pistol to his head and shot him. The guy couldn’t even speak Arabic.”
Captives of ISIL were often forced to drink salty water, and kept for days at a time blindfolded, the detainees said. They were often forced to pray without being allowed access to water to perform ablutions beforehand, the captives alleged.
“Sometimes they made us pray with our hands tied behind our back,” one man says.
A third, much shorter video purported to show a 10-year-old who was liberated from his ISIL captors. The boy was clearly traumatized and hardly able to answer questions about his detention.
Cilina Nasser, a researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Program of Amnesty International, based in London, said the organization was very concerned about the fate of remaining detainees held by ISIL as the campaign against the extremist group intensifies.
Some opposition sources believe that up to 1,500 people were held by ISIL before the offensive against it.