Franco American journalist, Jonathan Alpeyrie was abducted by a Jihadist Islamist faction of the Syrian rebels in April 29th 2013. Until his arrival in Paris on July 24th, his faith was hanging on to the ever unpredictable reaction of his captors. Today, from a boat in the outskirts of Paris he looks “healthy and relaxed, yet deeply affected by his ordeal” reports photojournalist Michel Puech.
The liberation of Alpeyrie under ransom brings some hope to seeing the others back home. It also gives some insights into the hostages daily life in Syria, facing death each single moment, not knowing from whom or when it will hit. His staggering story can also be the story of all the journalists, (numbers updated daily by Reporters Without Borders) , who disappeared without a trace in Syria’s hell. Régis Le Sommier, Deputy Editor at Paris-Match met with Alpeyrie and he shares with us an excerpt of his interview.
Paris Match: How were you captured?
Jonathan Alpeyrie. I arrived in Beirut on April 22. My Lebanese contacts had already prepared my journey to Yabrud, three hours by road from ArsaI, Lebanon, and one kilometer from the Homs-Damascus highway under government control. This area is a rebel stronghold that goes all the way up to Zabadani, where the fighting is fierce. On April 29, I decided to go south to Rankous. I was driving a pick-up truck. I had contact with a katiba [combat unit] of twenty men, who I was supposed to spend the day with. But it was a trap—I was betrayed by my fixer, who sold me out. The fixer and I had set out in the direction of Lebanon. After a kilometer, at a checkpoint, masked men took us out of the vehicle. They forced me down on my knees and pretended to execute me by firing several shots. Then they handcuffed and gagged me. We got back in the car, the fixer and I. With machine guns pointing at the back of our heads, we were driven to a house. There, they emptied my pockets and took all my equipment. This time, they pretended to execute my fixer. Then, they put us both back in the car and we ended up in another house. I laid on the floor, blindfolded and handcuffed behind my back for about six hours. The soldiers kept kicking me, stepping on me, laughing. They tried to break me psychologically. Then a group of men arrived, all bearded. I saw them release my fixer; clearly, they had had an agreement with him. I then spent the next three weeks tied to a bed. Outside, there was a lot of shelling, especially artillery and rocket fire.
PM: So, you were being held by the rebels, while under government fire.
JA: Yes. I finally met their leader, Assad, an Islamist. One day, they put me through a mock execution, pretending to cut my throat. They said: “You are an American spy, we are going to kill you.” They tried to make me crack. I told them: “I’m a journalist. Go on the internet and type in my name, you’ll see.” After three weeks, I was moved to an abandoned villa in the countryside, near the Lebanese border. The first week, I lived chained to a window. Over time, I developed a friendship with the soldiers, especially the younger ones, so that they would treat me better. They ended up taking off the chains. There was a walled area around the villa where I could walk without being seen from the outside. Whenever there was a visitor, they would lock me in a room, but other than that I was free to move about. On the other side of the road, a four-story building served as their headquarters.
PM: What did you do to pass the time?
JA: I spent my time walking around an empty pool. When there was electricity, I watched TV. That’s how I discovered one day that journalists from France 24 News, Didier François and Edouard Elias, had been abducted.
PM: What happened next?
JA: They took two pictures of me. They said they were going to show them to the French consulate in Beirut. In fact, the consulate had never been told about my capture. On July 18th, a sheik came to the villa with a soldier. I went to their headquarters where they filmed me, forcing me to say that I was a friend of the katiba and that I was treated well. Then they left, telling me that I would be released the next day. I no longer believed them.
I met the businessman who had paid my ransom to the rebels. I cannot give his name, but he’s on the black list of Syrian officials. How much was it? 450,000 Dollars. At first, they wanted 700,000, but the businessman offered 200,000. One evening in Damascus, he told me that too many people knew I was there. The next day, he made me get into the trunk of his car and that’s how I crossed the border back into Lebanon. By 5 AM, I was in Beirut. His men put me up in one of his apartments, and he went back to Syria. They asked me not to leave, saying the businessman would come back to get me at 6 PM. I worked out a way to call the French Embassy because there were phone lines. Two French gendarmes arrived and drove me to the Embassy, where I stayed for four days. This negotiation was a miracle, because my captors had never intended to release me. —
The integral interview is available in print and IPad version of Paris- Match. In French
Jonathan de retour en video.