Teo Padnos esteve durante quase dois anos preso na Síria. Foi raptado por um grupo de amadores, aprisionado pelo Exército Livre Sírio e depois entregue à Frente al-Nusra. Foi torturado, espancado e, finalmente, libertado. Na revista do The New York Times, contou toda a história.
In the early morning hours of July 3, one of the two top commanders of Al Qaeda in Syria summoned me from my jail cell. For nearly two years, he had kept me locked in a series of prisons. That night, I was driven from a converted schoolroom outside the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, where I was being held, to an intersection of desert paths five minutes away. When I arrived, the commander got out of his Land Cruiser. Standing in the darkness amid a circle of men draped in Kalashnikovs, he smiled. “Do you know who I am?” he asked.
“Certainly,” I said. I knew him because he visited me in my cell once, about eight months earlier, and lectured me about the West’s crimes against Islam. Mostly, however, I knew him by reputation. As a high commander of the Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, he controlled the group’s cash and determined which buildings were blown up and which checkpoints attacked. He also decided which prisoners were executed and which were released.
He wanted to make sure I knew his name. I did, and I repeated it for him: Abu Mariya al-Qahtani. “You are our Man of Learning,” I added, using the term —sheikhna — that his soldiers used to refer to him.
“Good,” he said. “You know that ISIS has us surrounded?”
I did not know this.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Not to worry. They won’t get me. They won’t get you. Everywhere I go, you go. Understand?” I nodded.
We drove to a residential compound next to an oil field near the Euphrates. For the rest of the night, I watched as some 200 foot soldiers and 25 or so religious authorities and hangers-on from the Afghan jihad prepared for their journey.
There were bags of Syrian pounds to stuff into the cabs of Toyota Hiluxes, boxes of stolen M.R.E.s to load onto the truck beds and suitcases and water coolers to fit in beside them. And there was the weaponry: mortars, rockets, machine guns, feed bags filled with grenades and bullets, stacks of suicide belts.
By 4 in the morning, the packing was done. At dawn, the commander drove to the head of the column of Hiluxes and fired his handgun into the air. Within seconds we were gone, flying over the sand. There are roads in this part of Syria. We didn’t use them.
I was now 20 months into my life as a prisoner of the Nusra Front: the abrupt departures, the suicide belts, the mercurial behavior of the Man of Learning, the desert convoys, the way I might be shot or spared at any moment — this was my world. I was almost used to it.
In October 2012, however, when I was first kidnapped, I used to sit in my cell — a former consulting room in the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo — in a state of unremitting terror. In those first days, my captors laughed as they beat me. Sometimes they pushed me to the floor, seized hold of a pant leg or the scruff of my jacket and dragged me down the hospital corridor. If someone seemed to take an interest in the scene, I would scream: “Sa’adni!” (“Help me!”) The onlookers would smirk. Sometimes they called out a mocking reply in English: “Ooo, helb me! Ooo, my God, helb me!”
Because there was no bathroom in my cell, I had to knock on the heavy wooden door when I needed the toilet. Often, the guards wouldn’t come for hours. When they did, they would bang on the door themselves. “Shut up, you animal!” they would say.
The cruelty of my captors frightened me, but my bitterest moments in those early weeks came when I thought about who was most responsible for my kidnapping: me.
I believed I knew my way around the Arab world. In 2004, when the United States was mired in the war in Iraq, I decided to embark on a private experiment. I moved from Vermont to Sana, the Yemeni capital, to study Arabic and Islam. I was good with languages — I had a Ph.D. in comparative literature — and I was eager to understand a world where the West often seemed to lose its way. I began my studies in a neighborhood mosque, then enrolled in a religious school popular among those who dream of a “back to the days of the prophet” version of Islam. Later, I moved to Syria to study at a religious academy in Damascus. I began to write a book about my time in Yemen — about the mosques and the reading circles that formed after prayer and the dangerous religious feeling that sometimes grew around them.”