James Harkin’s The Execution of James Foley , Islamic State and the Real Story of the Kidnapping Campaign that Started a War.
In recent years the rise and at times almost unbelievable acts of brutality perpetuated by Islamic State and their deluded followers have dominated global News and shocked and sickened all right minded people the world over. The capture, torture and eventual beheading of Western hostages – often played out on social media in grotesque and gut retching details demonstrated that a new kind of terrorist stalks the corridors of modern times and their capacity for cruelty seems to know no boundaries .
In a few short years Islamic State have surpassed all previous terrorist groups for the sheer wickedness of their twisted ideology and their complete disregard for the sanctity of human life and sadly countless innocent people have died at the hands of these merchants of death.
The Islamic State’s ( and other terrorist groups ) policy of kidnapping has a long and profitable history in and around the middle East and other stomping grounds of IS and their terrorist franchise and yet the world and in particularly the West were largely ignorant of these actions until Western hostages started being publically displayed and beheaded by the mad men of IS.
Suddenly Islamic State were centre stage and the world watched in horror as one after the other the American and British hostages were paraded in front of a stunned worldwide audience and slaughtered in the most barbaric and senseless way possible.
James Harkin’s book Hunting Season takes us on a journey through the history and background of these kidnappings and is a must read for those interested in the rise and history of Islamic State and their shocking crimes.
The grief and hopelessness of the families of those in captivity destined to die in the wastelands of Islamic State’s backyard is heart breaking and the disgraceful lack of support from their respective governments should shame the politicians to the core.
Packed with background information about the kidnappings and conditions the hostages had to endure this book had me gripped from the first page and I read it in two days flat and was left with a bad taste in my mouth and full of sympathy for the families of those so brutally murdered.
On 19 August 2014, a member of the jihadist rebel group known as ISIS uploaded a video to YouTube. Entitled ‘Message to America’, the clip depicted the final moments of the life of kidnapped American journalist James Foley – and the gruesome aftermath of his beheading at the hands of a masked executioner. Foley’s murder – and the other choreographed killings that would follow – captured the world’s attention, and Islamic State’s campaign of kidnapping exploded into regional war.
Based on three years of on-the-ground reporting from every side of the Syrian conflict, Hunting Season is James Harkin’s quest to uncover the truth about how and why Islamic State came to target Western hostages, who was behind it and why almost no one outside a small group of people knew anything about it until it was too late. He reveals how the campaign of kidnapping and the development of Islamic State were joined at the hip from the beginning. The book is an utterly absorbing account of the world’s newest and most powerful terror franchise and what it means for modern war.
Beheading in Islam
Beheading was a standard method of execution in pre-modern Islamic law, as well as in pre-modern European law. Its use had been abandoned in most countries by the end of the 20th century. Currently, it is used only in Saudi Arabia. It also remains a legal method of execution in Iran, Qatar and Yemen, where it is no longer in use.
In recent times, non-state Jihadist organization such as ISIL and Tawhid and Jihad use or have used beheadings. Since 2002, they have circulated beheading videos as a form of terror and propaganda. Their actions have been condemned by other militant and terrorist groups, and well as by mainstream Islamic scholars and organizations.
Beheading in Islamic scripture
Two surahs which refer to “smiting the neck” of enemies are cited by the terrorists who argue that the Quran commands beheading:
When the Lord inspired the angels (saying) I am with you. So make those who believe stand firm. I will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger.
Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks until, when ye have routed them, making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom ’til the war lay down its burdens.
Scholars disagree about whether these surah refer specifically to beheading, but they are in agreement that they refer to killing the enemy by striking at the neck. Terrorists who use them to justify beheadings take them out of context.
Surah 47:4 goes on to recommend generosity or ransom when waging war. Furthermore, it refers to a period when Muslims were persecuted and had to fight for their survival.
Justification for beheading has also been drawn from the Siras and Hadiths. In one account, Muhammad is said to have ordered the beheading of at least six hundred males from the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe, while another states that he was merely present and watched the beheadings and mass burial. There is no agreement among scholars as to the historical accuracy of this and similar accounts from the life of Muhammad.
Beheading in Islamic law
Beheading was the normal method of executing the death penalty under classical Islamic law. It was also, together with hanging, one of the ordinary methods of execution in the Ottoman Empire.
Currently, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which uses decapitation within its Islamic legal system.
Beheading is reported to have been carried out by state authorities in Iran as recently as 2001, but as of 2014 is no longer in use. It is also a legal form of execution in Qatar and Yemen, but the punishment has been suspended in those countries.
Capital punishment of the Banu Qurayza for treaty violations, 400 killed in 627.
Muhammad Ahmad declared himself Mahdi in 1880 and led Jihad against the Ottoman Empire and their British allies. He and his followers beheaded opponents, Christian and Muslim alike including the British general Charles Gordon.
Beheadings have emerged as a terror tactic in Iraq since 2003. Civilians have borne the brunt of the beheadings, although U.S. and Iraqi military personnel have also been targeted. After kidnapping the victim, the kidnappers typically make some sort of demand of the government of the hostage’s nation and give a time limit for the demand to be carried out, often 72 hours. Beheading is often threatened if the government fails to heed the wishes of the hostage takers. Frequently the crude beheadings are videotaped and made available on the Internet. One of the most publicized murders of an American was that of Nick Berg.
Since 2004 insurgents in South Thailand began to sow fear in attacks where men and women of the local Buddhist minority were beheaded. On 18 July 2005 two militants entered a teashop in South Thailand, shot Lek Pongpla, a Buddhist cloth vendor, beheaded him and left the head outside of the shop.
Timothy R. Furnish, as Assistant Professor of Islamic History, contrasts the Saudi government executions, conforming to standards that minimize pain, with the non-state actors who have “chosen a slow, torturous sawing method to terrorize the Western audience.”
ISIL beheading incidents
In January 2015, a copy of an ISIL penal code surfaced describing the penalties it enforces in areas under its control, including beheadings. Beheading videos have been frequently posted by ISIL members to social media.
Several of the videoed beheadings were conducted by Mohammed Emwazi, whom the media had referred to as “Jihadi John” before his identification.
The beheadings received wide coverage around the world and attracted international condemnation. Political scientist Max Abrahms posited that ISIL may be using well-publicized beheadings as a means of differentiating itself from Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and identifying itself with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda member who beheaded Daniel Pearl.
The publicised beheadings represent a small proportion of a larger total of people killed following capture by ISIL.
Condemnation by Muslims
Mainstream Islamic scholars and organizations around the world, as well as militant and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda have condemned the practice.
Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a statement later on Friday.
“The prime minister has said before that tracking down these brutal murderers was a top priority,” a spokesperson said.
by Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent
As the militant who sadistically murdered Western aid workers and journalists on camera, Mohammed Emwazi became a top target for US and British intelligence agencies, even though he is thought to have played no military role within Islamic State.
After his identity was revealed in February, Emwazi largely stayed out of sight, taking particular care not to leave a digital trail to his whereabouts.
But GCHQ, the UK government’s communications headquarters, has expended enormous efforts to intercept and decipher any encrypted messages that might reveal his location or those of his associates.
Emwazi is believed to have travelled to Syria in 2013 and later joined IS militants.
He first appeared in a video in August last year, when footage was posted online showing the murder of US journalist James Foley.
Earlier this year, details emerged about how Emwazi made a number of journeys abroad before he left for Syria in 2013.
They included a trip to Tanzania in August 2009, when he is believed to have first became known to security services in the UK.
His naming this year led to a row over the cause of his radicalisation, with British advocacy group Cage suggesting that contact with MI5 may have contributed to it.
However, Downing Street said that suggestion was “completely reprehensible”, with Mr Cameron defending the UK’s security services.
Civil war erupted in Syria four years ago, and now President Bashar al-Assad’s government, IS, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all hold territory. Millions have been displaced and more than 250,000 people killed as a result of the fighting.
IS aims to establish a caliphate over the entire Muslim world, a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia. It already hold control of swathes of land in Syria and Iraq.
Security analyst Charlie Winter said that if Emwazi’s death was confirmed, it could affect those wanting to join Islamic State “out of a sense of adventure”.
He added: “They want to go and find a collective group where they can be part of something bigger. But they also don’t want to die.”
Mohammed Emwazi’s movements before heading to Syria
1. Aug 2009, refused entry to Tanzania: travels to Tanzania with two friends, but is refused entry at Dar es Salaam. Tanzanian police have denied Emwazi’s name is on their database of suspected foreign criminals detained and deported in 2009, as he had claimed. Emwazi and his friends are put on flight to Amsterdam, where they are questioned. They return to Dover and are questioned again.
2. Sept 2009, travels to Kuwait for work: leaves the UK for Kuwait for work.
3. May/June 2010, returns to UK for holiday: he returns to the UK for an eight-day visit.
4. July 2010, refused re-entry to Kuwait: Emwazi returns to the UK once more for a couple of days. He is stopped at Heathrow on his return to Kuwait and told he cannot travel as his visa has expired.
5. 2013, travels to Syria: Emwazi attempts to travel to Kuwait but is stopped and questioned. Three days later, he heads abroad. Police later inform his family he has travelled to Syria.
Emwazi was given the nickname “John” by a group of his hostages. The hostages said that he was part of a terrorist cell they called “The Beatles“, and that he guarded Western hostages while handling communications with their families. The nickname refers to John Lennon of the Beatles, and other members of the cell are known as “George”, “Paul”, and “Ringo”, in reference to the other Beatles. The cell members all had British accents. The nicknames “Jihadi John”, “Jailer John” and “John the Beatle” were created by the press.
Ringo Starr expressed his disgust at the use of his former band’s name in this context, saying: “It’s bullshit. What they are doing out there is against everything the Beatles stood for,” saying that the Beatles had stood for peace and opposed violence.
Jihadi John Apologizes to His Family – but for Beheading Hostages
On 3 October 2014, a video released by ISIS showing Emwazi beheading British aid worker Alan Henning. Henning, a taxi driver from Salford, Greater Manchester, had volunteered to deliver aid to Syria when he was kidnapped in Ad Dana, an area held by ISIS, on 27 December 2013.
On 16 November 2014 a video was posted by ISIS of Emwazi standing over a severed head, which the White House confirmed was that of Peter Kassig. Kassig’s actual beheading was not shown, and unlike earlier hostage beheading videos he did not make a statement.
The video that ended with a shot of Kassig’s severed head showed the beheadings of 21 Syrian soldiers in gruesome detail, by a group led by a masked Emwazi. It was said by the BBC that, unlike previous videos, this one shows the faces of many of the militants, indicates the location as being Dabiq in Aleppo Province, and that this video “revels in gore.” Unlike previous videos that cut away without showing the killing, Emwazi is shown beheading a victim.
Haruna Yukawa, age 42, was captured sometime before August 2014. Kenji Goto, age 47, was captured sometime in October 2014 while trying to rescue Yukawa. In January 2015, they were threatened to be killed unless the Japanese government paid a ransom of $200 million. Haruna was beheaded on 24 January, and Kenji on 31 January 2015.
It was claimed in August 2014 that ISIS held more than 20 hostages. Many hostage families chose not to reveal their relatives’ names in order to avoid drawing attention to them and compromising their safety. All or nearly all of the Europeans were ransomed by their countries. However, laws in the US and the UK prohibit payment of ransoms.
The videos were produced and distributed by Al Hayat Media Center, a media outlet of ISIS that is under the authority of the ISIS’s official propaganda arm, the Al-Itisam Establishment for Media Production, that targets specifically Western and non-Arabic speaking audiences.
An unnamed forensics expert commissioned by The Times to look at the James Foley video said “I think it has been staged. My feeling is that the murder may have happened after the camera was stopped.” The Times concluded that “No one is questioning that the photojournalist James Foley was beheaded, but camera trickery and slick post-production techniques appear to have been used.” Two unnamed video specialists in the International Business Times of Australia claimed that portions of the video appeared to be staged and edited. Dr. James Alvarez, a British-American hostage negotiator, also claimed the James Foley video was “expertly staged”, with the use of two separate cameras and a clip-on microphone attached to Foley’s orange jumpsuit. Jeff Smith, Associate Director of the CU Denver National Center for Media Forensics, said “What’s most interesting is that the actual beheading that takes place in the videos, both of them are staged.”
British analyst Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses) published photographic and video forensic evidence suggesting that the James Foley video was taken at a spot in the hills south of the Syrian city of Raqqa.
‘Jihadi John’ became the subject of a manhunt by the FBI, MI5, and Scotland Yard. In his videos, “Jihadi John” concealed his identity by covering himself from head to toe in black, except for tan desert boots, with a mask that left only his eyes visible. Despite this, several facts about ‘Jihadi John’ could be ascertained from both videos. He spoke with an apparent London or southern England accent and appeared to have a skin tone consistent with African or South Asian descent. In both videos, he was seen to sport a pistol in a leather shoulder holster under his left shoulder, typical of right-handed people, but his actions in the videos suggest he is left-handed.
Other factors that could have led to his identification were his height, general physique, the pattern of veins on the back of his hands, his voice and clothes. A team of analysts might use the topography of the landscape in the video in an attempt to identify the location. On 24 August 2014, the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Peter Westmacott, said that Britain was very close to identifying ‘Jihadi John’ using sophisticated voice recognition technology, but when pressed, refused to disclose any other details.
On 14 September British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that the identity of ‘Jihadi John’ was known but had yet to be revealed.
On 25 September, FBI DirectorJames Comey told reporters that they had identified the suspect, but did not give information regarding the man’s identity or nationality. “I believe that we have identified him. I’m not going to tell you who I believe it is,” Comey stated. Michael Ryan, an author and scholar from the Middle East Institute speculated “Maybe 98 percent of 95 percent sure is not sure enough to put a man’s name out.”
On 26 February 2015, The Washington Post identified the perpetrator as Mohammed Emwazi, a British man then in his mid-20s who was born in Kuwait and grew up in west London.The Washington Post investigation was undertaken by Souad Mekhennet and Alan Goldman.
Emwazi was born to Iraqi parents who moved to neighboring Kuwait from Iraq. When the Kuwaiti government rejected their application for citizenship, in 1994 they moved to Iraq and then on to Britain. According to his student card from the University of Westminster, Emwazi was born on 17 August 1988.
In an interview with The Washington Post, one of Emwazi’s close friends said: “I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John. He was like a brother to me. … I am sure it is him.” Asim Qureshi, research director at the advocacy group CAGE, who had been in contact with Emwazi before he left for Syria, also identified the man in the videos as Emwazi, stating: “There was an extremely strong resemblance. This is making me feel fairly certain that this is the same person.” U.S. officials declined to comment for the Washington Post report, and Emwazi’s family declined a request for an interview. Qureshi said that Emwazi was “extremely kind, gentle and soft-spoken, the most humble young person I knew”.
The BBC stated that Emwazi is believed to be “an associate of a former UK control order suspect … who travelled to Somalia in 2006 and is allegedly linked to a facilitation and funding network for Somali militant group al-Shabab.” He reportedly prayed on occasion at a mosque in Greenwich. He graduated with a degree in Information Systems with Business Management from the University of Westminster (2009). His final address in the UK before he went abroad was in the Queen’s Park area of north-west London.
The Post reported interviews with Emwazi’s friends indicating that Emwazi was radicalized after a planned safari to Tanzania following his graduation. According to the interviews, Emwazi and two friends, a German convert to Islam named Omar and another man, Abu Talib, never made the safari. Rather, upon landing in Dar es Salaam in May 2009, the three were detained, held overnight by police, and eventually deported. In May 2010, The Independent reported on the episode, identifying Emwazi as Muhammad ibn Muazzam. According to e-mails sent by Emwazi to Qureshi and that were provided to the Post, after leaving Tanzania, Emwazi flew to Amsterdam, where he claimed that an MI5 officer accused him of attempting to go to Somalia, where al-Shabab operates. Emwazi denied attempting to reach Somalia, but a former hostage told the Post that “Jihadi John was obsessed with Somalia” and forced captives to watch videos about al-Shabab. Tanzanian officials have denied that they detained and deported Emwazi at the request of MI5, saying instead that he had been refused entry for being drunk and abusive.
Later, Emwazi and his friends were permitted to return to Britain, where Emwazi met with Qureshi in late 2009. The Post quoted Qureshi as saying that Emwazi was “incensed” at the way he had been treated. Emwazi moved to Kuwait shortly afterward, where (according to emails he wrote to Qureshi), he worked for a computer company. Emwazi returned to London twice, however, and, on the second visit, he made plans to wed a woman in Kuwait.
In June 2010, Emwazi was detained by counter-terrorism officials in Britain, who searched and fingerprinted him, and blocked him from returning to Kuwait. In an email four months later to Qureshi, Emwazi expressed sympathy for Aafia Siddiqui, an al-Qaeda operative who had just been sentenced in U.S. federal court for assault and attempted murder. Qureshi said he last heard from Emwazi when Emwazi sought advice from him in January 2012. Close friends of Emwazi interviewed by the Post said that he was “desperate to leave the country” and one friend stated that Emwazi unsuccessfully tried to travel to Saudi Arabia to teach English in 2012. Sometime after January 2012, Emwazi traveled to Syria, where he apparently contacted his family and at least one of his friends.
In March 2015, following media reports that his mother had recognised Jihadi John’s voice as her son’s, his father denied that this had happened or that Emwazi was Jihadi John.
Reacting to the naming of Emwazi by the media, a spokesman for the family of Steven Sotloff told the BBC that they wanted to see him behind bars. Bethany Haines, daughter of David, said “It’s a good step but I think all the families will feel closure and relief once there’s a bullet between his eyes.”
Lord Carlisle, a former independent reviewer of UK anti-terror laws, said, “Had control orders been in place, in my view there is a realistic prospect that Mohammed Emwazi, and at least two of his associates, would have been the subject of control orders with a compulsory relocation.”
In reaction to the revelation, Emwazi’s father, Jassem, has said that he is ashamed of his son. Previously, when he learned from his son that he was going to Syria “for jihad“, Jassem had told him that he hoped he would be killed. But the day after the naming he issued a statement denying that his son was Jihadi John. An unidentified cousin issued a statement which said, “We hate him. We hope he will be killed soon. This will be good news for our family.”
On 8 March 2015, according to The Sunday Times, Emwazi apologised to his family for “problems and trouble the revelation of his identity has caused” them. The message was conveyed via an unspecified third party.
Hostage reveals chilling moment Jihadi John drew sword on face of captive to brand him for beheading
Marc Marginedas, 46, was held by ISIS militants for six months last year
He says he was guarded by three men who spoke with British accents
Group nicknamed The Beatles because they regularly ‘beat’ prisoners
Jihadi John – later identified as Mohammed Emwazi – was the gang leader
He would draw on the prisoners heads with a red pen to mark out who he next planned to brutally execute in a filmed beheading
When his pencil was blunt he would scratch a cross into next victim’s head
Islamic State torturer-in-chief Jihadi John scratched the outline of a sword on the face of one of his victims in order to signify that he was to be beheaded, according to an account by a hostage held by the terrorist group. Spanish journalist Marc Marginedas, 46, who was released a year ago, says he and 18 other hostages were guarded by three terrorists, who all spoke with British accents.
And he reveals that they named them the ‘Beatles’ because they liked ‘beating’ people, not simply because they were British.
The leader of the group, who came to be known as Jihadi John and has since been identified as Kuwaiti-born Londoner Mohammed Emwazi, went on to behead five hostages. The hostages were eventually taken to a prison in Raqqa, northern Syria, where the ‘Beatles’ had a room next to the prisoners, separated only by a broken glass door and a curtain. Mr Marginedas said the three masked ‘Beatles’ liked to burst into their cell shouting and threatening the prisoners, and always ended up ‘beating’ at least one of the hostages.
Prisoner: Marc Marginedas, a seasoned war reporter – was held for six months by Islamic State terrorists
On one occasion he recalls how Jihadi John carried out a savage beating of one of the hostages who had been told to approach the door.
Recalls Mr Marginedas: ‘Once in position, [Jihadi John] took a red pen and began to draw a sword on the [unnamed] hostage’s face, letting him know, in this macabre he would end his days in Syria, beheaded.’
‘The pen tip broke before he finished the sketch, but Jihadi John wanted to finish his work with the rest of sharpened pencil, already cut almost like a knife, tearing the skin of the cheek with a vengeance, and leaving for the following days a visible wound in the face, outlined by the scar.’
Mr Marginedas also claims that the Beatles were only put in charge of the prisoners because Islamic State commanders couldn’t spare hardened fighters from the battlefield.
And he believes this may have been a source of a grievance to them which only served to fuel their cruelty.
Mr Marginedas was captured on the 4th of September 2013 by rebel jihadists, close to the city of Hama, in Western Syria. He had entered the country three days before, through Turkey; accompanied by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). According to Mr Marginedas, Jihadi John was a ‘manic-depressive’, similar to that of a serial killer so often depicted in films
Another Spanish journalist, released shortly after Mr Marginedas, has told how the prisoners had to wear orange jumpsuits and had to memorise in Arabic a number written on their back.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Javier Espinosa, described how Emwazi squeezed maximum drama out of the torture and intimidation of the hostages. Espinosa, a journalist for Spanish newspaper El Mundo, said Emwazi liked to carry an antique metre-long sword with a silver handle, of the kind Muslim armies used in the Middle Ages. After enduring a mock execution at the hands of Jihadi John, Mr Espinosa said ‘that encounter confirmed the psychopathic character of my interlocutors.’
Emwazi was among ‘psychotic’ extremists who pillaged the Spaniard’s belongings to put towards a haul of stolen cash apparently so large there were rooms filled with millions of dollars. It was, he continued, one of ‘several episodes of psychological and physical torture, privations and humiliations’ prisoners endured.
Mr Espinosa was snatched with his colleague photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova when the pair were working near the Turkish border in 2013.
Alongside American journalists and aid workers including Britons Alan Henning and David Haines, they were locked in ISIS prisons – as Mr Espinosa describes them as ‘elegant mansions’ and the former government headquarters in Raqqa – across the war-ravaged country for months.
Being woken by the screams of other hostages as they were tortured in their cells was commonplace. On one occasion, the Spaniard notes, a young boy was beaten to a pulp after being caught smoking – a forbidden habit under oppressive Sharia law.
The European and American hostages who disappeared had been either freed or moved, Mr Espinosa claims to have been told. Instead they were being picked off one by own, their deaths showcased to the world in barbaric propaganda videos.
Mr Marginedas recounts an incident in February last year when Jihadi John visited the hostages and claimed that he had been wounded in combat:
‘Once, on a February evening, he appeared in the room and began walking in circles to the silent hostages. He seemed limp, and claimed that he had been wounded in combat during the day.
‘He said “I wonder what you would do to me if you were in my position,” hinting that he was aware of the suffering being imposed on innocent and the desire for revenge that may be raising his performance.’
Mr Marginedas says the jihadists’ evil cruelty is further demonstrated by another episode in which the ‘Beatles’ gave the leftovers of their food to half the starving hostages while the remaining hostages were ordered to watch their fellow prisoners eating. This, he says, was designed to sow bad feeling among the prisoners – which it did, with recriminations against those who had played the Beatles’ game by eating the food.
Mr Marginedas was one of the first of the 19 hostages from 11 different countries to be released by IS. He recalls how Jihadi John first told him the good news: ‘Marcos, Marcos [is the name on my passport], are you ready to go? ‘ , he asked in a quiet, mellow voice.
“Yeah, I replied, instinctively looked up by the surprise news that was giving me and forgetting that when we spoke to the ‘Beatles’ I had to keep my eyes focused on the ground, fearing that we might end up identifying these three masked by eye.
‘”Do not look at the eyes!”, he shouted, lifting his hand.
A Danish photographer who endured months of torture at the hands of Islamic State extremists says the terrorist killer known as “Jihadi John” forced him to stand for days and dance the Tango at a prison in Syria.
Daniel Rye Ottosen, 26– the last ISIS hostage to be released alive last June– revealed details about his experience in captivity in an interview Sunday with Denmark radio network DR.
The identity of “Jihadi John”– the British terrorist infamous for beheading at least 4 hostages—became public last spring. Mohammed Emwazi, 26, was born in Kuwait, raised in London, and graduated from Westminster University before going to Syria in 2013 to fight with ISIS.
He has become the face of several gruesome propaganda videos— wearing a mask and all black, and wielding a knife before decapitating high profile hostages captured by ISIS terrorists.
Ottosen– a freelance photographer from Odense, Denmark —says after being captured, Emwazi forced him into a degrading dance that ended in a brutal beating, Britain’s Telegraph reported Monday.
“‘Do you want to dance?'” he remembers Emwazi asking. “Then he took me up, and we were supposed to dance the Tango together, John and I.”
Days of beatings and torture taught Ottosen and his fellow hostages not to engage with their captors. “At that point, I just looked down at the ground the whole time because I did not want to look at them – if you looked them in the eye you would just get beaten even more.”
“So I had my head down and my arms up and he led me around the prison and then suddenly it just changed and he threw me down and kicked and hit me,” Ottosen said.
“Then they ended by threatening to cut my nose off with side-cutting pliers and such things,” Ottosen added.
Ottosen said that after his arrest he was repeatedly tortured for about two weeks in a cell in Aleppo, as the rebels tried to force him to confess to being a CIA spy.
Emwazi first appeared in an ISIS video in 2014, when he beheaded American freelance journalist James Foley. He later appeared in videos showing the beheadings of American journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
“They were very good at torturing. They were well aware of the where the limits lay,” Ottosen said. The most brutal torture involved being forced to stand for days on end.
“One of the tricks they used with me was to hang me up from the ceiling with my arms over my head and my hands handcuffed, hanging from a chain. I could stand with both of my feet on the ground but they left me there for an entire day,”Ottosen recalled.
The unending torture was so agonizing that when the extremists threatened to extend it for another three days, Ottosen broke down and tried unsuccessfully to take his own life to escape.
“I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of this world anymore,” he told DR. “So I took that chain around my neck and actually secured it with my little finger so that it couldn’t just loosen and then I hopped and tried to take my own life.”
Later, he was held in a children’s hospital with Foley. The two would do exercises in their cells to build strength and morale. “James was not so strong with his motor skills so I taught him to stand on one leg with closed eyes,” he remembers.
“We did some partner exercises where you lean against each other and then stand up. Some very basic things, but something that is difficult when you have no energy and when one’s muscles have basically disappeared.”
Ottosen was released in June last year after his family paid a 1.5 million pounds or $3.2 million to ISIS. Much of the ransom came from a Facebook fundraising campaign mounted by Ottomen’s sister, Anita Rye Ottosen.
The payment has been controversial, as Emwazi in the following months went on to behead Ottoman’s fellow captives. Both the American and British governments forbade the hostages’ families from giving in to ISIS demands.
Ottosen is still working through the psychological and physical trauma he experienced in the clutches of ISIS. He has only recently begun to work again as a photographer, after more than a year of healing. He has recounted his ordeal in a new book being released in Denmark Tuesday.