• France's news in English

Freed reporters tell of mock execution ordeal

AFP/The Local · 22 Apr 2014, 08:23

Published: 22 Apr 2014 08:23 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Details are starting to trickle through of the ordeal experienced by the four French journalists who returned home Sunday after being held hostage for 10 months at the hands of the most radical of Syria's jihadist groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

But the journalists were reluctant to give too much away for fear of jeopardising the safety of those who remain in captivity in the war-torn country, including US journalist James Foley, a freelancer who had been working for Agence France-Presse and other media when he went missing in November 2012.

According to Didier Francois, 53, an experienced and highly respected war reporter for Europe 1 radio who was kidnapped on June 6 north of Aleppo along with 23-year-old photographer Edouard Elias, the first few days were particularly tough.

"They put you in the mood straight away. The pressure is very, very, very strong. Four days without eating or drinking. On the fourth day without drinking, you start feeling really awful, handcuffed to a radiator and being beaten," he told Europe 1 radio on Monday.

"It's... to break any will to resist."

Francois and Elias were stopped by armed and masked men after they crossed the border into Syria from Turkey.

"A Kalashnikov to the head, handcuffed in the back... In English, they told us 'Don't worry, we will check everything, this can be settled in one hour'... Typical," Francois said.

Then "we find ourselves in t-shirts, without belts or shoes, without ourphones, with nothing. And with something on the head."

'World centre of torture' 

Nicolas Henin, 37, was captured several weeks later in Raqqa in the north - as was Pierre Torres, a 29-year-old photographer.

The four were held together after having initially been detained separately, and appeared thin when they were welcomed home Sunday in an emotional reunion with their loved ones at an air base near Paris.

Henin said in an interview with Arte television late Sunday that hunger had been tough to endure, as was the cold.

"There was also a little physical abuse, but that's what all Syrian prisoners endure," he said.

"Syria has always been a big world centre of torture."

Francois said his jailers staged mock executions several times, placing guns on his temple or forehead.

But the journalists refused to reveal more on any further physical violence they may have been subjected to.

For his part, Henin attempted to escape on his third day of captivity, and managed to run for 10 or so kilometres (six or so miles) at night before being caught by his abductors.

Jailers announced Mandela death

The journalists were regularly moved around, and Henin counted around 10 different locations, in war zones and sometimes near the frontline.

To pass the time, Elias and Francois made a makeshift game of chess on a box of cheese, with nail clippers and a pen they kept hidden in the jacket and socks of the photographer.

Story continues below…

The two also gave each other photography and scuba diving "lessons", and tried to remember key dates in French history.

Contact with their jailers varied between "difficult phases" and "phases of total relaxation", said Francois.

They knew next-to-nothing about what was happening in the outside world, apart from the death of Nelson Mandela which their jailers announced.

He also described a "surreal moment" when the guards entered their cell pretending to bring food and instead, "they had brought snow and they had a snowball fight with us."

The four were eventually brought by car to the border with Turkey, which they crossed on foot, and were picked up by Turkish soldiers on the other side overnight Friday to Saturday.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French cheer police, reviving Charlie spirit
French police officers on Saturday demonstrated for the fifth night in a row to protest mounting attacks on officers. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

Angry French police have taken to the streets for five nights in a row -- and Parisians have started to cheer them on, reviving scenes last seen following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

Scarlett Johansson turns popcorn girl in Paris
US actress Scarlett Johansson greets customers at the Yummy Pop gourmet popcorn shop in the Marais district of Paris. Photo: Benjamin Cremel / AFP

Hollywood superstar Scarlett Johansson swapped the red carpet for a turn behind the counter at her new popcorn shop in Paris on Saturday.

US couple donates huge art collection to Paris
Marlene (centre) and Spencer (right) are donating their collection ‘for the benefit of art lovers’. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

A Texan couple who discovered their love for art during a trip to Paris in the 1970s are to donate the multi-million dollar collection they have amassed since to the French capital.

France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available