The Islamic State (IS) once again thrust itself into the American conscious on Tuesday by releasing a video showing the beheading of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff, who was captured in Syria in 2013. Its release comes two weeks after a video of journalist James Foley's execution surfaced. The chief suspect in the beheadings is a former rapper from the UK named Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, who went by "Jihadi John."
IS has been wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq as it tries to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, which it wants unified under sharia. It has become notorious for its torture and systematic executions of prisoners. At least one man, however, was captured by IS and lived to tell about it. What he revealed confirms that the group is as brutal as they come.
Turkish photojournalist Bunyamin Aygun, a secular Muslim, was captured by IS in Syria in November and toldAl Monitor about his hellish experience. Aygun said that in the 12 days he was held by IS, he was bound and gagged for the vast majority of the time and moved from cell to cell and interrogated.
“Are you Muslim, Sunni, Alevi? Recite a prayer. Give us all your passwords. Who are those women on your Facebook page? Do you drink? Who are you working for? Give us some names. What is your real name?” his tormentors would bark. “It went on for so long I could no longer keep track, those 40 days felt like 40 years,” Aygun said. Was he tortured and beaten like the American was? Aygun stiffens and refuses to comment.
"We were forced to take ablutions and pray five times a day. I didn’t really know how, but Heysem Topalca [his fellow hostage and FSA commander] taught me what to do," he says. "It was the only time they would unbind my eyes and hands."
“If you are a Muslim you have nothing to fear, but if you are lying we will kill you,” the militants would warn.
Aygun said that most of the fighters he saw were actually Turkish:
“The fighters were mostly Turks from Turkey and from Germany. Their faces were covered. You could only see their eyes. It was clear from their voices that they were young. Some were university-educated. All they did was fight and pray. They said they went into battle praying to be martyred. This is what they lived for, to die as martyrs and to establish an Islamic state in which all citizens would live as the Prophet Muhammad did, to live by the rules of the Book. They asked me if I wanted to become a suicide bomber or go to battle with them. They gave me a Turkish language Quran to read and a book about the jihad. There was no singing, no whistling, no women, no cigarettes. They rained curses on Erdogan, and Davutoglu, saying they were ‘infidels.’ They claimed that if Turkey sealed the border gates that were under IS control they would hit one Turkish village after the other and trigger a civil war inside Turkey. I was told that a qadi [an Islamic jurist] was reviewing my case. One of them said that my slaughter would avenge their brothers who were rotting in Turkish prisons. I was mentally and physically drained.”
The level of fanatacism here is disturbing. Not only do IS militants adhere to this radical Islamist ideology, but they fully expect others to as well. Also disturbing is the fact many of these men, if Aygun is correct, are educated. Of course, as we saw last week in Sean Hannity's wild interview with Anjem Choudary, radical, caliphate-supporting Muslim extremists live in the West as well.
Aygun was eventually released after the Turkish government negotiated a deal with IS whose details have not been disclosed.
Image credit: Bunyamin Aygun