BEIRUT – Wide-eyed Seif said his family had lost hope of seeing him again after militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant snatched him from his media office in Idlib province.
The 22-year-old was repeatedly beaten by his captors, before being sentenced to death for his media activism and his parents had already been told he was dead.
But an offensive against the group, launched last week by other Islamist rebels outraged by ISIL’s abuses, saved his life.
When Seif was reunited with his family and fiancee, he gained a fresh lease of life.
“My parents had been told by ISIL I had already been executed. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw me,” Seif from Idlib province told AFP via the Internet.
Seif thought he would never make it out of his jail after being tried and sentenced to death by one of the group’s foreign members.
“I was never given a proper trial. The Tunisian (militant) judge just walked into the room and issued his sentence,” Seif said
“He picked the harshest sentence because that’s what he was in the mood for.”
Seif was kidnapped by ISIL on November 28 and freed on January 6 when rebels stormed the jail in Dana in northwestern province of Idlib.
The attack was part of the week-long rebel offensive against ISIL in large swathes of northern Syria that has seen opposition fighters expel ISIL from some areas.
The group is holding hundreds of captives including rebels from rival groups, activists and journalists, among them Westerners.
Survivors like Seif say conditions in ISIL jails are “inhuman, far worse than those of the regime” of President Bashar Al-Assad, where he was also held in 2011.
“Believe me, ISIL’s jails are even more horrific. At least in Assad’s prisons I got food to eat every night,” said Seif, who was a student in Aleppo when he joined the anti-Assad revolt in 2011.
“I was given half a liter of water every two days, and only scraps of food to eat. Because they hate media activists, I was beaten and sworn at and accused of being a heretic,” Seif said.
He also saw the militants executing other prisoners, including a 15-year-old Kurdish boy who was accused of rape and belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party, whose Syrian branch has been fighting ISIL for months.
“He denied the accusations and for five days they beat him. He eventually broke and ‘confessed.’ They immediately shot him.”
Seif said ISIL was holding two Armenians who had tried to flee Syria after the militants attacked churches, especially in the northern province of Raqa.
“They showed the Armenians and me the heads of prisoners who had been executed, to terrorize us,” said Seif.
“The torture was merciless. My forehead was bleeding from the beating for two days, and I got no treatment. I saw people in their 70s, who had been kidnapped for ransom,” he added.
“They had many Kurds in their jails, whose release was costing their families hundreds of thousands of Syrian pounds,” said Seif.
Rights groups have said that ISIL has kidnapped hundreds of Kurds in recent months in Aleppo province.
Milad Shehabi had been working as a citizen journalist for Shahba Press, a grassroots network, when militants stormed his Aleppo office in late December.
“They said I should learn how to speak about ISIL,” Shehabi told AFP over the Internet.
Shehabi had been visiting neighboring Turkey before he was captured by ISIL, but was determined to return to Syria even though he had received threats.
Unlike Seif, Shehabi was not put on trial. He did not even know he was being held by ISIL until several days after his capture.
“For 13 days, I was blindfolded and held in solitary confinement,” he said. “I couldn’t see anything. I only heard sounds.” – AFP