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French war photographer kidnapped by ISIS in Syria in 2013 attempted suicide


After being tortured, starved and dragged through the blood of other prisoners, a French war photographer kidnapped by Islamic State in Syria in 2013 said he and other hostages attempted suicide.

“We found plastic bags and ropes,” Edouard Elias testified on Friday during a federal trial against one of his captors, El Shafee Elsheikh, a former British national who was seated a few feet away in a room of hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. “We tried to find a way to kill ourselves.

Elsheikh is accused of leading a kidnapping plot that resulted in the deaths of American aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Elias, 30, who was imprisoned with the American victims, took off his glasses a few times and took deep breaths to calm himself as he described the horror of his 10 months in captivity almost a decade ago, and the particularly violent treatment he received at the hands of Elsheikh and two partners dubbed the “Beatles” of ISIS because of their British accents.

French war photographer Edouard Elias, kidnapped by Islamic State in Syria in 2013, says he and other hostages attempted suicide

French war photographer kidnapped by ISIS in Syria in 2013 attempted suicide

Elias (second from left, in 2014, after his release) testified on Friday in a federal trial against one of his captors, El Shafee Elsheikh, a former British national who was seated a few feet away in a courtroom of Alexandria, Virginia. “We tried to find a way to kill ourselves”

He described the Beatles as “the professionals”, describing how they wore green military uniforms and boots as opposed to flip flops like the other guards, wore black masks and carried Glock handguns. They worked as a team as they inflicted the pain, pushing each other with the snap of their fingers, all the while laughing at the pain.

Elias said he was among those forced to sing a sadistic version of Hotel California, with particular emphasis on the lyrics “you can never leave”.

“They said it over and over again laughing,” he said. “I can’t listen to this song anymore.”

The photographer was kidnapped in June 2013 with fellow journalist Didier François, less than an hour after crossing the Turkish border. Five IS terrorists with masks and AK-47 assault rifles blindfolded them and forced them into a truck where they were taken to a makeshift prison in the city of Aleppo.

Accused of being a CIA spy, Elias said, a fighter pointed a gun at his neck, pulling the trigger just to terrorize him. He was placed in a cell, chained to a radiator and deprived of food and water for three days, causing him to hallucinate. When he closed his eyes, a masked man would burst into the cell and beat him, he testified.

French war photographer kidnapped by ISIS in Syria in 2013 attempted suicide

Elias (L), a French photographer who was kidnapped in Syria, arrives to testify at the Albert V. Bryan Federal Courthouse during the trial of ISIS member El Shafee Elsheikh, the ‘Beatle,’ in Alexandria, Virginia, April 8, 2022

French war photographer kidnapped by ISIS in Syria in 2013 attempted suicide

Elsheikh is accused of leading a kidnapping plot that resulted in the deaths of American aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

French war photographer kidnapped by ISIS in Syria in 2013 attempted suicide

Elias, 30, who was imprisoned with the American victims, took off his glasses a few times and took deep breaths to calm himself as he described the horror of his 10 months in captivity almost a decade ago, and the particularly violent treatment he received at the hands of Elsheikh and two partners nicknamed the “Beatles” of the Islamic State because of their British accents

The screams of other tortured Westerners also kept him awake. The worst is when it stopped.

“I was very scared because I thought I would be next,” he said.

He was taken to another facility called the Eye Hospital, where he could see prisoners being beaten through the slit windows of his cell.

“You could see their blood everywhere,” Elias testified. “When they took me out of the room for questioning, they dragged me through the blood of the other victims.”

New prisoners were arriving. He remembers having met the Danish photographer Dan Rye, held hostage for 398 days.

“He wasn’t like a human being, just a corpse, like a barely breathing body,” Elias said.

As he testified, the families of the American victims could be heard crying in the gallery. Elsheikh sat in silence, occasionally taking notes.

Elias said he met his sadistic team at the nearby prison, where they questioned him about the conditions. Elias told them that he was hungry and needed food, and that he had lice in his pants.

“When he heard that, he punched me and said it was a sexual disease,” he recalled.

Other guards mainly beat prisoners in the outer corridors, but the Beatles regularly entered their cell, forced them to face the wall and kneel down, and then punched and kicked them.

French war photographer kidnapped by ISIS in Syria in 2013 attempted suicide

French war photographer kidnapped by ISIS in Syria in 2013 attempted suicide

Elsheikh is accused of leading a kidnapping plot that resulted in the deaths of US aid workers Kayla Mueller (right) and Peter Kassig (left)

Elias’ experience echoes that of several other former hostages who have spoken out over the past two weeks. Like others, he spoke of being forced to make a “proof of life” ransom-demanding video, wearing an orange jumpsuit and sitting in front of the black IS flag. He described the scorching summer and the freezing cold of winter, the decrepit conditions and the torture.

He spoke of joining a caravan of hundreds of Islamic State fighters as he was transported to his next prison, describing it as a scene from the apocalyptic film Mad Max.

In February 2014, he was transferred to the “oil facility” outside Raqqa, where several Americans were relocated. He was crammed into a cell with 18 prisoners, where they had to defecate in buckets as they were only allowed out twice a day to use the toilet. The guards slammed the door to hurry them. He recalls a day when the Beatles pulled a hostage out of the cell, then returned three days later to show the other prisoners a picture on his iPad of the man’s bloody head with a bullet hole.

When the prisoners were released, the Beatles sent a farewell message by brutally beating their cellmates in front of them, threatening to kill the remaining hostages if ransom demands were not met or if they spoke to the government or the media. . Wanting to avoid inflaming terrorists, Elias chose not to speak to the press upon his release in April 2014.

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