“We are Ansar al-Islam.” …I knew that this group …had links to al-Qaeda.
When it had proved impossible to enter Mosul safely, we had circled back into the desert and spent the night at another farmhouse. The scorching heat of the day was replaced by a cool breeze, and after a meal of lamb and rice we had spent a relatively relaxing evening under the stars. It was the first good sleep that I’d had in days and I began to believe that with Mubashir to protect us, we would survive this ordeal.
It was during some candid conversations at this farm that I finally learned the identity of my captors. As we talked about the various ethnic factions and politics at play in northern Iraq, I had mentioned the group Ansar al-Islam. Mubashir had looked surprised at my comment and said, “Don’t you know? We are Ansar al-Islam.” My heart sank when I heard this because I knew that this group of fundamentalist extremists had links to al-Qaeda. “Yes,” confided Mubashir, “Osama is our brother inAfghanistan, and al- Zaqarwi is our brother in Jordan.”This group had never before released a foreigner and this revelation explained why they had never mentioned ransoming us off as hostages. The Ansar al-Islam fought for their religious beliefs – not money. Although I expressed my fears to Mubashir, he once again stressed the fact that his brother’s wish would be granted – provided we were telling the truth.
We spent Friday morning at the farm awaiting word that we could enter Mosul and be granted an audience with the new Emir. Again, everything seemed to be relaxed, and although the notion of having someone pronounce a “live-or-die” sentence upon me was still very frightening, Mubashir assured us that his brother’s promise would be kept. We got the word around 2 p.m. that the Emir would see us. We climbed into one car – the UNICEF driver in the trunk, Zeynep and I along with Mubashir and two guards in the front. Our hands were not tied and we wore no blindfolds – everything seemed to be going well. However, once inside Mosul, it became apparent that something had gone wrong with the plan.
They blindfolded me and gagged me with a headscarf. My hands were tied behind my back and I was rolled over with my feet up in the air – tied to a pole.
We had stopped at several homes and picked up different guides at various locations. Eventually we were taken to a large house in a northern suburb, and led into an empty room. The UNICEF driver was released from the trunk and taken into a small anteroom beneath a staircase. Mubashir had complained of being ill, and he now seemed disinterested in our fate. There were about a dozen young men inside this house and they were extremely hostile towards us. Blankets were placed across all the windows despite the soaring temperature.
Zeynep whispered that these new men were not Turkmen but Arabs, as she no longer understood their conversation. Mubashir made some sort of statement to them on our behalf and then bade us farewell. He and his men were heading back into Tal Afar to join the fight.Within minutes of his departure, the Arabs burst into the room and roughly blindfolded me. As I tried to protest, I was kicked in the ribs, knocking the wind out of me.“Shut up American spy!” shouted my assailant.
For the next hour, I was interrogated – beginning again with their presumption that I was either a CIA or Mossad spy. I gave all the possible details of my identity and when asked how I could confirm these ‘lies’ I told them to research my writings on the Internet. In particular, they could not believe that I had written features for al-Jazeera’s website. Although intense, I was relieved when the questioning had ended without any physical force being used. I was premature in my assumption.
I had barely removed the blindfold and taken a sip of water when five men rushed back into the room. I could see the batons and ropes, but I had no time to react before I was pulled to my feet. When I attempted to resist, my feet were knocked out from under me, and I was savagely kicked. They blindfolded me and gagged me with a headscarf. My hands were tied behind my back and I was rolled over with my feet up in the air – tied to a pole. Two men held the pole up when two others began beating my feet with straps and batons.