Jonathan Alpeyrie spent 81 days in captivity, with one of the world’s most dangerous al-Qaeda affiliated groups.
In a detailed account of his ordeal to weekly Paris Match, the 34-year-old photographer – who returned to France last week after being released -recalled mock executions and scenes of torture.
“I was betrayed by my fixer [local translators who help journalists in foreign countries], who sold me out,” he said, remembering the moment on April 29 when masked men stopped his vehicle on the road to Rankos, north of Damascus.
“They pushed me to my knees and pretended to execute me with several gun shots. Then they gagged and handcuffed me.”
He was taken to a house along with the fixer, who was later freed by another group of “bearded” men.
Alpeyrie, who works for the New York-based Polaris Images agency and had been in Syria for 10 days when he was kidnapped, spent three weeks tied to a bed as bombings raged around him.
Alpeyrie eventually met the chief of the clan holding him captive, whose group “Katiba al-Islam” controls Rankos.
“One day, they simulated the act of cutting my throat”, he said.
Eventually he was moved to another house in the countryside, where he spent the first week chained to a window before being allowed to move more freely.
“As the weeks went by, the bombings were becoming more intense. You could feel that the soldiers were getting nearer,” he said.
In parallel, Alpeyrie told the weekly magazine that he also witnessed the torture of four pro-regime Christians, who had been captured.
“They were setting dogs on them, they hit them with their belts. I heard their screams, it was horrible. It lasted a week.”
Then on July 18, a “sheikh” told him he was going to be freed. He was driven to Yabroud, north of Damascus, to the man’s flat.
“Two men arrived… One of them spoke perfect English. He told me: ‘Jonathan, you are now free. We are from the government and you’re going to Damascus’.
He was driven to a house in Damascus where he says he met the “businessman” who paid a “ransom” to the rebels.
According to Alpeyrie, the man is on a black list of Syrian dignitaries drawn up by the West and paid $450,000 for his release.
Alpeyrie was driven to neighboring Lebanon, from where he eventually flew to Paris.