“My ten months with Isis” (& thrown from the rooftops)

March 01, 2015

Bound, hooded, and thrown to his death: This unnamed man was accused of being gay and sentenced to death by an Islamic court in Raqqa last week. Several other people have been killed in a similar way in recent weeks by Islamic State.



1. Confirmed: Stephen Sotloff managed to conceal his Jewish and Israeli identity
2. Jihadi John’s school friend: He was an anti-Semite from an early age
3. Newly released film footage of Paris terrorist shows him asking if his victims were Jewish before he killed them
4. Like other Fascists before them, they hate gays too
5. University of Westminster refuses to cancel “hate talk”
6. “My ten months with Isis” – Life as a hostage of Jihadi John’s terror gang (By Tom Gross, Daily Mail, Feb. 27, 2015)

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


I attach an interview of mine below, published by the Daily Mail with one of the French hostages who were held captive by ISIS in Syria for ten months. He was kept together with the American and British hostages who were beheaded. (See also this video interview with him.)

There are two Israeli-related elements in it that may be of interest to some readers:

He confirmed to me that beheaded hostage Stephen Sotloff managed to conceal the fact that he was Jewish and had Israeli citizenship and had lived in Israel, from everyone – both his Islamic State captors and his fellow hostages. This is the first public confirmation of this by a released hostage. (ISIS supporters tend to be extremely anti-Semitic, and had they known Sotloff was Jewish, he would probably have been subject to additional torture.)

In his interview with me he also became the second released French hostage to confirm that Mehdi Nemmouche, the French Islamist on trial in Belgium for the murder of four Jews (including two Israeli tourists) at the Brussels Jewish museum last year, was the same man who had been one of his captors and torturers in Syria.

Before the article, here are some other notes.



The (London) Daily Mirror reports:

A former schoolmate of Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State butcher known as Jihadi John who has beheaded at least five western hostages… revealed that he got his first hint that Emwazi harboured extreme views during a Year 9 lesson on Nazi genocide.

He said: “The teacher told us the Nazis drew up plans to get rid of all the Jews.

“I heard Mohammed mutter ‘Good. They deserved it’. I thought he was joking but later he told me that he hated all Jews … He really meant it. He absolutely hated Jews. If we ever walked past a house in Golders Green that he knew was owned by a Jew he would shout obscenities, calling them names like ‘f***ing pigs.”



As I have pointed out before, whatever President Obama and his advisors might think, there is nothing random about Islamist anti-Semitism.

On Friday, a transcript was released of the video filmed on a GoPro camera by Islamist gunman Amedy Coulibaly, as he carried out the Paris Kosher supermarket massacre in January. In it, he first checks that his hostages are Jewish before executing them, and also makes a number of other anti-Semitic remarks.

The footage shows Coulibaly first grabbing hold of a customer, requesting his name, and then shooting him dead, after the man replies “Jewish”. Reports here from the BBC, and here from French media.

Coulibaly, a self-proclaimed Islamic State sympathizer, had in any case already told French journalists he called during the siege that he had crossed Paris to a Jewish neighborhood in order to kill Jews.



Another allegedly gay man, is bound and blindfolded then thrown off a high building in Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State. And a mob cheers and stones him when he hits the ground.



The University of Westminster in central London, from which “Jihadi John” (Mohammed Emwazi) graduated with a degree in Information Systems and Business Management in 2009, has refused to cancel a talk tomorrow evening by Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad, who has described homosexuality as a “scourge” and a “criminal act”.

Previous speakers at Westminster university have included Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda leader killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011, and Dr Khalid Fikry, who has given speeches suggesting that Shia Muslims believe “raping a Sunni woman is a matter that pleases Allah”.

Former Westminster university student Yassin Nassari was jailed in 2007 for carrying blueprints for a bomb in his luggage at Luton airport, near London.

In 2012, a series of videos were posted on the university Islamic society’s Facebook page in support of al-Shabaab, the Somali group that last week called for bomb attacks on U.S., Canadian and British shopping malls.



“My ten months with Isis” – Life as a hostage of Jihadi John’s brutal terror gang

* In an exclusive first interview outside France, a freed French Isis hostage says the British and American prisoners remained as cheerful as possible but that their governments could have done more to save them.

By Tom Gross
Daily Mail
February 27, 2015


I spent three days this week with Pierre Torres, one of the French hostages who was held captive by Isis in Syria for ten months. He was released last year, a short time before his American and British co-captives were beheaded one by one in a series of gruesome videos. He was among the last people to see them alive.

He and I were in Geneva to conduct a question and answer session at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights. A video of it can be seen here (or here), in which he explains why he first went to Syria, and other matters.

But in addition, over a series of coffees and walks around Geneva, Torres, a charming and good-humored but rather shy young man of 30, slowly provided me with additional insights into his time in captivity -- his first interview with a non-French journalist.

“We were moved around a lot, kept underground most of the time, sometimes chained together for weeks on end. It was tough and terrible things happened, but we also kept ourselves in as good spirits as possible.”

“We passed the time by inventing quizzes which we played with each other. We also played chess. We created chess pieces out of a discarded milk carton we had. Our captors let us play but were angered when we represented some of the pieces by faces – their interpretation of Islam strictly forbids any depictions of any man or animal. So we had to make the pieces again.”

Torres, speaking in English, said that during his 10 months of captivity he had learned English from the British and American hostages he was held with: British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines, freelance journalist John Cantlie, and American journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig. Cantlie remains in captivity. The others have been killed.

“We were not given access to TV, computers or the internet – but they did sometimes give us books, but mainly books propagating Islamic thought. They also brought us videos to watch – videos that tried to persuade us that the caliphate was god’s will.”

Torres added that he and fellow French hostage Nicolas Henin used the time in captivity to write a children’s story in their head -- and that book, titled “Papa Hérisson rentrera-t-il à la maison?” (“Will Daddy Hedgehog come back home?”) will be published in France next month (in mid-March). Torres did the illustrations for the book – which I suppose also served as a kind of therapy for him. He is a very gifted illustrator and drew me a beautiful full-page picture (which he said represented all the human rights activists at the Geneva Summit) on the copy of the book he gave me.

He speaks fondly of his fellow hostages. “Stephen [Sotloff] was very clever, and had deep political knowledge. And he was very brave. He was not afraid of to answer back to our captors. He used to challenge them with what he saw as inconsistencies in their teaching and worldview. He also, I should add, won all the games of chess.”

“He managed to conceal the fact from everyone that he was Jewish and had lived in Israel. None of us had any idea and I only found out from press reports after he was killed.” (Isis supporters tend to be extremely anti-Semitic and had they known Sotloff was Jewish, he would probably have been subject to additional torture.)

Torres also confirmed what fellow hostage Nicolas Henin already told the French media – that Mehdi Nemmouche, the French Islamist on trial in Belgium for the murder of four Jews at the Brussels Jewish museum last year, was the same man who had been one of his captors in Syria. (Henin has added that Nemmouche was responsible for torturing them too.)

Torres doesn’t want to go into detail about the mistreatment the Isis prisoners received and prefers to concentrate on the more agreeable details, to make sure they are not only remembered as victims of what are in effect perhaps the most sadistic snuff videos ever posted on the Internet.

But he did confirm to me that “at least 10 French and Belgium citizens” were among their captors. He also hinted that the British and American prisoners were “supervised” by a group of British and other fluent English-speaking Isis members.

“Alan [Henning] was in many ways the most simple and innocent guy you can imagine. Being a taxi driver he was more down-to-earth, not like the experienced travellers that some of the journalists being held hostages were. Alan had a huge heart. It was sometimes hard to understand his heavy Manchester accent. But his jokes and humour came through. ‘It’s cool to be with him,’ one of the other European hostages said to me at the time. Even though we were being moved around in locations in the middle of the desert he liked to speak of his beloved hobby of fishing. He was crazy about it. I think he taught me every word connected with fishing in the English vocabulary.”

“David [Haines] was more introvert. He thought very carefully before he said anything. Peter [Kassig] had been disappointed by some of the things he had seen when he served in the American army and so much wanted to help Syrians.”

“Jim [Foley] was very sociable. If the European hostages had arguments, he used to calm us all down. In a way he was the most respected of us all. He had a big soul.”

Torres also spent time with American aid worker Kayla Mueller (who Isis says was accidentally killed last month in a Jordanian airstrike) but said that most of the time, as a woman, she was kept separate from the men.

Together with the three other French hostages, Torres was released last summer, for a reported ransom of several million euros -- though the French government has denied they had anything to do with this.

“We were given 24 hours notice before we were freed. This gave time for the other hostages to give me messages to pass to their families. We were not allowed to take any paper with us but I memorised the email and phone numbers of their relatives.”

Torres has subsequently had phone and Skype conversations with the relatives of some of the hostages and Jim Foley’s mother flew from the U.S. to Paris to meet with him.

Torres also indicates that terrible things were done to them, and sometimes there were sharp disagreements between the hostages, but out of respect for those who were beheaded and for the sake of their families, he says he will never make public some of the disagreements or sufferings.

“It would be the decision of the families if they one day want to reveal details of the messages I passed on to them or what was done to them in captivity.”

Torres is also wary of saying anything publically that could make life harder for John Cantlie, who remains an Isis prisoner and who is now being used by Isis to film a series of propaganda reports from the de facto capital of the Islamic State capital, Raqqa.

Torres speaks a relatively fluent English – a language he barely understood before his captivity. “I learned English from the British and American hostages. Even though there were 23 of us in total from several different countries, English was the main language we all spoke together.” (For various security reasons, few details have been made public about other released hostages from Spain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere. The other European hostages were all released, apart from a Russian who was executed by Isis at the time Torres was being held there.)

“It is not for me to judge whether the U.S. and British governments should have paid a ransom for their hostages. I would only say that the U.S. is spending a lot more money on outside intelligence than any European government and they did not do the job to get their hostages out – more should have been done although it is not for me to say how.”

Torres also wanted to point out that he spent time with the locals in Raqqa in the immediate period before his abduction and “the population of Raqqa was not at all supportive of Isis and there were many demonstrations against Isis there.” He was concerned that the people of Raqqa now have to live not only under the terror of Isis rule but under the fear of American and allied airstrikes.

“It is them I am also thinking of,” he says.

(Tom Gross is a journalist and commentator specialising in the Middle East.)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.