The ISIS Hostage (2016)

A Noose around the Neck

Arthur sat in a cafe in the Turkish border town of Kilis. In front of him was a cup of strong Turkish coffee with thick sediment at the bottom. He hadn’t slept for the last twenty-four hours, but was keeping himself awake with caffeine and cigarettes. The Syrian combatants were night owls; they went to bed at dawn and usually didn’t get up until noon, which was why Arthur spent every minute questioning anyone who might somehow be involved in the complicated network surrounding Daniel, as well as tracking down locals who could travel into Syria to look for him.

Across from Arthur sat a carefully made-up young woman with a tight scarf wrapped around her head. Aya was distraught that she hadn’t been able to get Daniel out of Syria with her. She had been hired to help Daniel, but had failed. Arthur scribbled down scattered notes as she relayed her version of what had happened on the day they were captured.

‘When we were sitting on the sofa, I actually felt quite safe, until the Iraqi turned up,’ she told him. ‘He accused us of being spies. I was so scared that I didn’t translate everything for Daniel.

She had recognized one of the men: the unmasked Tunisian. He was one of the men who had stopped them the previous day. He had appeared in the doorway when Daniel was handcuffed and dragged to the basement.

‘The Tunisian told me I deserved to die,’ she said, but she was released some hours later. Luck had been smiling upon her, Aya thought.

‘One of the men who was a foreigner later helped me get away,’ she continued. ‘He showed me his French driver’s licence and I think he released me without asking his boss.’ Aya was certain that Daniel’s kidnappers were Islamists. She had thought for sure that she would be taken captive too.

Arthur was particularly interested to hear that several foreign fighters were part of the group that had taken Daniel. He was also relieved that Daniel had been taken at the former regime headquarters. This would allow him to find out who had been in command in the house in Azaz that day. In the previous months at least five foreign journalists had been kidnapped by Islamists from Jabhat al-Nusra, but after a few days in captivity most of them had been released with no ransom demands. Daniel had already been held hostage for ten days.

Even though the fixer, Ahmed, had written to Signe on the first night that Daniel had been taken by Jabhat al-Nusra, new information suggested a different scenario. When Arthur spoke with the Jabhat al-Nusra contacts he had acquired while working on James Foley’s case, he was informed that Daniel was being held by a group that was beyond their influence. And, unfortunately, in the time it took for the information to reach him, the situation may have already changed. But several people in Arthur’s network independently reported to him that the captors were from Dawlah al-Islamiyah, otherwise known as ISIS. Since there were few precedents, nobody had the prior knowledge or experience to gauge what ISIS would do with western hostages. The informants said that the al-Nusra Front or other rebel groups might be open to negotiations, should they be the ones behind Daniel’s kidnapping, but ISIS was a different story. ISIS members rarely spoke to non-members, such as Arthur’s informants.

According to the information available, Daniel had been kidnapped for taking photos without permission and had committed a crime according to sharia law’s prohibition against pornography. Arthur couldn’t know that Daniel’s photos consisted of plum trees and doves flocking around two brothers.

Still, he couldn’t get any information on Daniel’s exact location. Arthur’s contacts were working on the assumption that Daniel was still in captivity in the border town of Azaz, where he had originally been detained. Therefore, they focused their efforts on trying to find key members of the complex network of rebel groups headquartered around the sand-coloured building where Daniel was believed to be held.

· * ·

On the tenth evening of his captivity Daniel was moved and led up a flight of stairs, blindfolded and with his arms tied behind his back. He felt several hands search the pockets of his leather jacket and trousers.

‘What’s this?’ asked a voice. Daniel guessed the guard had found the sheet of paper with his fictitious story.

‘A story,’ he answered, but he was allowed to keep neither the paper nor his leather jacket, which the guard ripped off his back, before forcing Daniel into a cross-legged position with his hands cuffed in front of him. Then he fastened Daniel’s handcuffs to a radiator. Facing the radiator and with his back to the room, Daniel was able to lift the blindfold slightly with the inside of his upper arm and get an idea of his surroundings.

From the little he could make out without his glasses, it looked as if he was in some kind of large foyer with corridors leading off to other rooms. The room echoed when anyone spoke and he could see a wash basin, a window and a table in the middle. Daniel could hear people walking past the wash basin; some splashed water on their faces or filled water bottles, while others just walked through.

A man gave Daniel some water and an omelette. Once he had eaten, he dozed off in an awkward, cross-legged position. He was suddenly awoken by a violent kick in his side.

‘Don’t sleep!’ came the order.

Daniel straightened up, but found it hard to stay awake, because everything was dark behind the blindfold. For a while, he managed to sit up whenever he heard steps behind him. But he must have keeled over at some point, as he was abruptly awoken by an excruciating pain in his back, as if he had been whipped with a cable.

It wasn’t until he had heard several calls to prayer the next day that someone untied his aching body from the radiator and led him into another room. Once the blindfold was removed, he saw comfortable armchairs and a wooden desk. Behind the table sat a masked man, who turned out to be his interrogator. Daniel was ordered to sit on the floor and answer questions that he had already answered several times.

‘Who are you?’

‘I am Daniel Rye.’

‘Where do you come from?’

‘Denmark.’

‘Who drove you here?’

‘Friends,’ answered Daniel.

The voice behind the mask sounded very young; Daniel guessed they had put a twenty-year-old in charge of the interrogation because he could speak some English. The interrogator announced that he didn’t believe Daniel.

‘We know who you are. We know you’re lying,’ he stated, and Daniel was taken back to the radiator in the foyer.

After another night of sitting cross-legged with no water or food, he was taken back to the interrogator.

‘Tell us the truth. We know what it is, but we want you to say it!’ he shouted.

Daniel repeated the same information.

‘I’m only here to portray the civilian suffering caused by the war,’ he said, faintly registering some kind of rummaging going on behind him.

Before he had a chance to realize what was happening, more hands forced him down on to his back and a car tyre was pressed down over his bent legs, so his knees were sticking up through the tyre. A stick was then placed behind the backs of his knees, locking his legs in place. He was turned over on to his front, which exposed the bare soles of his feet.

He gasped for breath.

A searing pain surged through him as the guards began relentlessly hitting his feet with some sort of cable or pipe. Daniel screamed and a man pressed a stun gun against his ribs and shoulder. He screamed again. He couldn’t hold it in.

‘Who are you?’ one shouted.

‘I’m Daniel Rye Ottosen,’ he stammered, and was thrashed again.

‘You’re lying! You’re lying!’ shouted the interrogator. ‘Tell me who you really are!’

Daniel cried and screamed.

‘Man up and stop crying!’ one of them shouted.

Every time they lashed him, he screamed. If he didn’t scream out loud for fear of provoking more lashes, he screamed inside, losing all sense of time.

When will it stop? What do they want? How long will this go on? Just as long as they don’t break my bones or anything. As long as they don’t cause any permanent damage.

At some point, the whipping and the pain ceased. Someone removed the car tyre, dragged him out to the radiator in the foyer and handcuffed him to it once more. A few hours passed. Then they started all over again.

It was on the third or fourth round that everything started to become a blur. The only thing he was aware of was that he was back in the interrogation room again.

‘You’re a gymnast?’ asked the interrogator.

‘Yes,’ answered Daniel.

‘Right, well, what can you do then?’ he continued.

Daniel replied that he could show them some exercises if the handcuffs were removed.

‘We can’t do that,’ said the interrogator, who sat behind the table with a couple of other men.

‘Can you handcuff me in front of my body then?’

The interrogator agreed and his hands were handcuffed in front of him.

Daniel hadn’t moved very much in recent days apart from writhing from pain. His body ached; his feet were swollen from the beatings; he was thirsty, hungry, tired and completely beside himself. He took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling, straightening his posture and trying to feel his body.

And then he was off. He jumped as high as he could in the air and as he tucked his knees towards his stomach he flipped backward. His eyes scanned the stone floor to gain his bearings before he landed firmly on both feet. Pain surged through his body, but he had managed to perform a standing back flip and had stuck the landing - accomplished for the first time in his life with his hands cuffed.

The guards’ initial reaction almost made him laugh.

‘That’s a pretty stupid thing to do,’ one commented.

‘I can also stand on my hands,’ suggested Daniel, and he was allowed to show them another move to prove to the kidnappers that he wasn’t a CIA agent, but an elite gymnast from Hedegård. Standing tall, he bent forward and laid his hands down on the floor. He wanted to slowly bring his legs upwards into a handstand, but his palms were too close to each other because of the handcuffs, so the result wasn’t perfect.

The guards called him over to the table and placed a printed picture in front of him, which he had taken at the European Gymnastics Championships in Aarhus in 2012.

‘Who are they?’ asked the leader.

Daniel stared at the five men in the picture in their tight, white-, black-and-red gym suits. They were his teammates. He had taken the picture just before they took the floor at the final competition of the European Championships. They looked particularly determined: if they won this event, they would bring home the gold medal.

‘They are Niels, Stefan, Andreas, Lasse and Steven,’ said Daniel.

They beat him again. His answers didn’t seem to make any difference.

When they were finished, he was dragged back to the radiator, which had become the symbol for respite. His feet were cold, sore and swollen. It must have been about three days since he had had any water or food. Or gone to the toilet.

· * ·

‘Helloooo Daniel. Are you ready for me now?’ shouted a deep voice. Daniel didn’t recognize the voice that echoed in the foyer that evening, but he would soon know to whom it belonged. The torturer who used the nom de guerre Abu Hurraya, meaning ‘Father of Hurraya’, was known as the prison’s most brutal guard, reputedly taking genuine pleasure in torturing hostages.

‘You have beautiful hair. Why did you even come here in the first place? It was really stupid, you should never have come. Follow me,’ said Abu Hurraya in broken English as he stood in front of Daniel and fumbled with a key to the handcuffs.

Abu Hurraya was a tall, broad Syrian with long hair gathered in a ponytail. He lived on the first floor of the building, just above where Daniel was being kept. The other prison guards always knew where he was because of his distinctive voice, which they called ‘heavy’.

The torture would take place either in the office, where other guards had seen him put a stun gun to a prisoner’s body, or in special rooms, where a selection of chains and other instruments hung on the walls. Abu Hurraya was often summoned for beatings, which he performed dressed in ordinary trousers and a T-shirt. Unlike many of the other guards, he didn’t look like a fighter.

Abu Hurraya released Daniel from the radiator and walked behind him towards a room that Daniel hadn’t seen yet. As they entered, he noticed a man lying motionless in one of the corners. ‘You’ll look like that in twenty-four hours,’ commented Abu Hurraya.

He wrapped some foam around Daniel’s wrists and put the handcuffs on again.

‘Reach out your arms,’ said Abu Hurraya, stepping on to a chair. He pulled down some chains from a hook in the ceiling and looped them around the handcuffs. Daniel’s body was now completely extended. He was standing on flat feet, with his arms stretched up towards the ceiling. The foam lining the handcuffs fell off and he felt the sharp iron dig into his wrists.

‘See you tomorrow. You might be ready to talk by then,’ said Abu Hurraya with a cheery voice, before walking out, leaving Daniel almost dangling from the ceiling. The feeling in his hands and arms quickly disappeared; it was replaced by a constant tingling pain that penetrated his entire body.

When he had entered the room Daniel had faintly made out a window with a balcony and now he could hear people outside the window - Syrians, who might be on their way home from work, if they still had a job, or were perhaps out shopping for dinner. He was thirstier than he’d ever been and dreamed of gallons of water.

The sound of the calls to prayer permeated through the window during the evening hours and again around midnight. When Daniel heard some footsteps outside the door a few hours later, he called out the Arabic word for water, which Ayman had taught him: ‘Ma! Ma!’

A punishment was promptly issued. A man came in, whipped him a few times on his back and disappeared again. Daniel remained standing, stretched out from the ceiling to the floor, all night long.

He fell in and out of consciousness and discovered at some point that the man in the corner was gone. When sunlight hit him in the early morning hours, he heard the call to prayer once again, along with the voices of children - the sound of boys’ high-pitched voices teasing him and shouting English words through the door behind him.

‘Are you thirsty? Do you want some water? Are you hungry?’

Then they giggled and disappeared. Daniel was so thirsty and tired that he drifted off into a dream state: he was breaking into a 7-Eleven and drinking the entire contents of the store - milk, water, cola. He ran from shelf to shelf like a dehydrated thief, chugging drinks in a frenzy.

The stone patterns in the tiles underneath him began to blur and take on animal forms. The ground was teeming with vermin and he started to urinate. He felt the warm flow trickle down his leg. He shifted slightly to give his trousers a chance to dry; that way no one would notice, he thought. But that was ridiculous, because there was no one there. Only the creatures on the floor, his thirst and the urine. The light outside disappeared. He heard the call for prayer and the sound of children once again. He was almost pleased to be so thirsty, as it made him forget how painful and powerless it felt to stand there, like a taut bowstring.

He had been there for twenty-four hours when Abu Hurraya returned.

‘I’m thirsty,’ said Daniel.

‘Relax, you’ll get some water,’ Abu Hurraya told him.

Daniel’s brain danced around in a chaotic frenzy; he pictured himself being unshackled from the ceiling, his arms falling naturally down the sides of his body as he walked out of the room on strong, dignified legs.

Abu Hurraya stood on the chair and loosened the chain from the ceiling: Daniel crumpled to the floor like a rag. His body folded underneath him, a corpse washed away by the ocean, and he was swept weightlessly into a soft world of darkness.

· * ·

Over many decades in Syria, torture had developed into an absurd art form. Creative and effective methods were given names which were familiar to most Syrians, even those who hadn’t been exposed to the regime’s prisons. Many could define ‘The Tyre’ or ‘The German Chair’, ‘The Flying Carpet’ or ‘Shabeh’.

Daniel had endured one version of ‘The Tyre’. The other version consisted of pushing the car tyre down over the head and legs to make sure the prisoner was unable to move away from the blows.

‘Shabeh’ was another well-known classic: the victim has his hands cuffed behind his back so that the chain hanging from the ceiling forces the arms painfully upwards. The method Daniel was subjected to, his hands tied above his head, was in fact a milder version of ‘Shabeh’. The word has no real meaning, but some believe it comes from the word shabih or ghost.

Thousands of Syrians had been tortured by the regime and in military prisons. Torture was generally more the rule than the exception for inmates. Under President Hafez al-Assad’s leadership from 1971 to 2000, torture became systematic, and this continued under his son, Bashar al-Assad, who took over the presidency from his father. Torture was the regime’s trademark, which lived on in the newly dominant Islamist strongholds in northern Syria. Former prisoners who had been imprisoned by both the regime and the rebels described how the Islamists’ torture methods were an exact copy of the techniques used in Assad’s prisons.

In the government’s notorious Sednaya Prison, just north of Damascus, the inmates, often political prisoners, were subjected to torture and humiliation. According to many eyewitness accounts and reports, prisoners often died from being tortured.

So it was no coincidence that Daniel was subjected to the same torture methods that his torturers had endured themselves. For instance, Abu Hurraya reported to Abu Athir, who had been put in Sednaya Prison in 2007 on charges related to terrorism, but was freed under President Assad’s amnesty at the beginning of the revolution.

Abu Athir, a slim man in his early to mid-thirties with shoulder-length hair and a very thick, full beard, was known as one of Sednaya Prison’s hardliners. He was a radical Islamist who fell out with other jihadists and Islamists because his narrow and ultra-conservative dogma left no space for any other versions of Sunni Islam. Immediately after his release in the summer of 2011 he formed the rebel group the Sunni Lions in Aleppo and became a familiar face among Syria’s armed factions during the civil war. In August 2012 his brother was killed and Abu Athir took control of his brother’s brigade, the Mujahideen Shura Council.

Abu Athir’s power grew significantly when he met ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Iraq later that year, and he became one of his most fervent and vocal followers in calling for an Islamic caliphate. Some months later, following a split between the two factions Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, he helped to ensure that fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra joined Baghdadi’s ISIS, and made sure his own faction also endorsed ISIS.

In May 2013 Abu Athir became part of ISIS’s Shura Council, a powerful organ under Baghdadi’s control. Abu Athir was in charge of media relations and was responsible for the recruitment of foreign jihadis, while at the same time serving as the trusted and influential Emir of Aleppo.

· * ·

Daniel’s body slumped against the radiator, heavy and useless. Not even the cup of water and the roll of bread with falafel and tomato that he had been given could revive him after hanging from the ceiling for a full day and night. He had eaten only the tomato - his mouth felt too dry to swallow anything else. He drifted in and out of a restless sleep, dreaming of a kung-fu master who beat him and ran after him, until some guards woke him again, heaved him up by his arms, and dragged him across the floor and back into the interrogation room.

‘If you don’t tell us who you are, we’ll hang you up for three days with no food or water. Then we’ll behead you and send a video home to your parents!’ a voice boomed at him.

Daniel lacked the strength to react. Instead he heard his own inner voice as he allowed his body to be led into another room.

Fuck, you can do whatever you like to me; hit the soles of my feet, whip my back, just don’t hang me up without water again … I’ll die. I’ll rot … I’ll just fucking rot and wither away from this. I’d rather die.

The room resembled the one where he had previously been hung up, except that there was a rubbish bag full of Coke cans on the floor, a table and a broken wooden bed. A man held him up so he wouldn’t collapse, while the torturer grabbed a chain hanging from a hook on the ceiling. The torturer wrapped it around the handcuffs and padlocked it, locking the chain and handcuffs to the ceiling. Daniel was left standing once again with his arms stretched above his head. The torturer disappeared.

I can’t! I can’t! he screamed inside. I can’t stand here for three days and then die afterwards.

He looked around him. The table. It had been placed to make sure it was just out of his reach. His wrist. He could bite through his wrist so he could escape.

Water. He was so thirsty that his brain was about to dry out and flashes of visions and images flickered past. It required nothing of the guards to leave him hanging there. What if they forgot about him?

He could neither sleep nor move to escape the constant pain. Every muscle in his body was being stretched to its breaking point. He was trapped in a never-ending hell, without a way out, without the slightest relief. Two, maybe three, hours passed before he regained control of his thoughts and once again focused on the table in the room.

If only he could move it closer to him. He grabbed the chain with his hands and held on tight as he swung his body in an arc above the floor. His big toe brushed the edge of the table, which made a clattering noise. Daniel paused momentarily, listening for footsteps in the hallway, then swung himself over and over again towards the table; each time it moved by a fraction. And each time he listened to see whether the noise attracted any attention. Finally, the table was close enough that he could pull it underneath him with his legs.

He stood on the table top. The most wonderful feeling flowed through his body as he sank his arms down from their outstretched position. The relief spread from his elbows to his shoulders. He stood there for a long time, enjoying this new sensation, until the thirst overcame him. Thoughts rushed through his head: To be free from this world, to decide for yourself when you want to leave it. That’s all I want.

He bit his wrist hard. It started bleeding and a stab of pain rushed through him. He couldn’t do this to himself. But imagine if he could just drink a little blood or escape. Or simply disappear.

He looked at the chain that hung from the hook on the ceiling above him. If it could be an instrument of torture, it could also be one of liberation. His hands reached for the cool metal and wrapped the chain around his neck, so it rested against his skin.

For a moment he frightened himself. He had lived a wonderful life, he thought to himself. Even if he hadn’t had any children. The fact that he hadn’t left his mark on the next generation suddenly meant much more to him than he’d ever expected. He recalled the day he had been kidnapped and thought about his Syria project. At least he hadn’t just sat at home in indifference and done nothing. He rested his arms and felt the chain around his neck as he stood still for a brief moment. The thirst had disappeared.

Suddenly he sensed someone looking at him. As he turned his head, he could just make out the outline of a small figure in the doorway. It had to be a child. Daniel turned his head back - and jumped. He sprung off from the table towards the ceiling. He felt a violent jerk in his body and the plaster from the ceiling raining down on him. There was a tightening sensation around his neck and everything went black. He felt his body tingle and he urinated in his trousers.

He descended further and further into darkness.

· * ·

Arthur was working undercover to locate Daniel. After extensive discussions in various towns along the Syrian border, he hired several locals to help him with the search. These included Alpha, whom he called his assistant and who had an extensive network, and Majeed, whose task it was to track down the group that had kidnapped Daniel.

Majeed was a local television journalist who had previously worked as a fixer for foreign journalists in Syria. When Alpha rang Majeed and requested his help, he agreed despite the high risk he’d be taking, not only for himself, but also for his wife and their three children. But he needed the money and he felt sorry for the vanished Dane. Even though Majeed didn’t know Daniel, he got the impression that Daniel had travelled to Syria to tell people’s stories through his photos. Perhaps Daniel was someone who thought everyone else was just as kind as he was - but Syria was no longer like that.

With a file in his bag containing information about Daniel, Majeed travelled around Azaz and the surrounding area searching for clues. He held countless futile meetings, until he finally succeeded in making contact with an influential ISIS figure in the area. The man went by the nom de guerre Abu Suheib al-Iraqi, which meant he came from Iraq. According to several sources, he was about forty years old and had been a soldier under Saddam Hussein. In other words, he was a former Ba’ath Party loyalist turned ISIS hardliner, now fighting in Syria and involved in kidnapping both foreigners and Syrians.

Along with a trusted friend, Majeed drove to the house where they knew that Abu Suheib was staying. A chubby man with a full beard covering his wide face greeted them with a bowl of fruit and an otherwise unwelcoming attitude. When Majeed explained that they were looking for information about a disappeared Dane, Abu Suheib spat out, ‘You dare to come here and ask me about an infidel who has sullied the Prophet’s name? We will slaughter him.’

‘Who has sullied the Prophet’s name?’ asked Majeed.

‘Denmark. Wasn’t there a cartoonist in Denmark who sullied the Prophet’s name?’

‘You want to kill a Dane because another Dane has insulted the Prophet?’ proceeded Majeed carefully.

‘All Danes are infidels and we will slaughter them all, and because you have come here to ask about him, we ought to slaughter you too.’

The only positive outcome of the meeting so far was that Majeed had finally found someone who admitted that he knew of Daniel’s existence. He tried to calm him down.

‘What do you want?’ asked Abu Suheib.

‘We want to bring Daniel home to his family.’

‘How many “notebooks” will you give me?’ asked Abu Suheib.

Majeed didn’t know what he meant by ‘notebooks’, but later found out that in Iraq a notebook is the equivalent of $100,000.

‘It’s impossible to put together such a huge sum of money,’ objected Majeed. ‘His mother and father and fiancée are the ones trying to get him home, not the state.’

‘The man works for the intelligence service - he’s admitted it.’

‘He’s a photographer,’ answered Majeed, who wanted to show Abu Suheib his file with information about Daniel for proof. But Abu Suheib wouldn’t budge. He demanded an ambulance to transport wounded ISIS soldiers and seven notebooks. When Majeed pleaded again, explaining that they couldn’t pay so much, Abu Suheib asked him to leave.

Arthur viewed Majeed’s meeting with Abu Suheib as a possible opening. Abu Suheib seemed willing to negotiate and he knew where Daniel was. More names began to emerge. On his notepad he wrote ‘Abu Athir’ and drew a square around the name as someone to be investigated in greater detail. The information suggested that Daniel was being kept under Abu Athir’s control somewhere in Aleppo, even though it was likely that Abu Suheib’s local ISIS group in Azaz had been the ones to kidnap him.

· * ·

Daniel had now been missing for more than two weeks. After the first week, Susanne and Kjeld were trying to get back to their normal routines. On Sundays Kjeld rode his bike to clear his mind. It helped to calm him. Every morning Susanne wrote a few lines in her diary and researched uplifting quotes online, which she used to look up for use in greeting and birthday cards.

On 25 May she wrote in her diary: ‘I survived the time before last and I survived the last time, so I will have to survive now to survive next time.’

They finally told their immediate family that Daniel had been kidnapped. They also told Christina, whom they had put off with white lies until now. She wept and made herself refrain from googling stories about Syria. It was too frightening.

· * ·

Daniel felt hands on his neck and shoulders. Some people were holding him up, others fiddled with the chain. For a brief moment he thought God’s hand was lifting him up towards the light - until someone threw cold water on his face. He was reluctant to wake up, but moved his head instinctively when a boot threatened to step on it.

The guards broke out in cheers: their hostage was alive and kicking. They celebrated by beating him with a plastic tube, which bent around his tormented body, and then they left him tied to the radiator in the room.

They had tortured, starved and drained him of all humanity. He was no longer himself. He had jumped as high as he could so that the chain would break his neck, but his head remained intact on his shoulders and the guards were celebrating because he was still alive. Had the child in the doorway given him away? Maybe they wanted to kill him themselves? Maybe he had actually wanted the child to raise the alarm? He didn’t know.

Once he was alone again, he tried to reach the bag filled with cans of Coke in the hope that he might find something to drink.

His feet could just about touch the bag, but he couldn’t move it. Over by the bed, he saw a half-filled water bottle, which lay there shining like a miracle. Water. Using the outer edge of his big toe, he managed to reach it. He drank the few gulps that were left in the bottle, looked around the room and suddenly realized that there was no glass in the window frame.

Instead, there were rolled-down metal shutters on the outside of the window. They were partially destroyed in one corner and a piece of cardboard had been pasted over to obscure the view of the outside world. He also caught sight of an old lampshade in the nearest corner. It resembled the lamp his grandmother had at home with a fringe dangling around the bottom of the shade.

Before leaving for his trip to Syria he had seen the film Rescue Dawn starring Christian Bale as an American pilot who is taken hostage during the Vietnam War. In the film Bale uses a nail to work open his handcuffs, allowing him to escape the torture camp.

Daniel thought of this scene as he contemplated the old lampshade on the floor. He pulled it towards him with his feet. Perhaps things could work out in real life as they did in the movies.

He took his time jiggling and fiddling with the lampshade’s metal spokes and eventually managed to break a piece off the shade that was about seven centimetres long. He inserted the end of the metal into a hole in the handcuffs so he could bend it slightly. It formed the shape of a key, which he might be able to use in the same way as Christian Bale’s nail.

Daniel stuck the metal into the handcuff lock and turned it. He fiddled with it for several hours at different angles until finally, he heard a click: the lock was open.

He sat quietly for a moment. The only thing he knew for certain was that he was on the first floor and could jump out of the window, but he had no idea how far down it was, nor what was outside the house. It didn’t matter. He just wanted out. Better to die on the run than live under torture.

Daylight penetrated the holes in the metal shutters, forming cones of light on the floor. Daniel heard the day’s first call to prayer as he removed the cardboard and climbed through the corner of the window frame where the shutters were broken. He pushed himself through until he was finally standing on a small balcony.

It was low enough for him to jump, so he crawled over the railing, stretched himself out and dangled his legs in the air before he let go and landed on his bare, swollen feet in a pile of branches.

He scanned the horizon for somewhere to run for cover, but could see only gangly, leafless trees and an empty building to the right. Next to the trees was a dirt road and he chose this as his escape route, even though he was well aware that he would practically light up like a beacon in the middle of the flat, light-brown landscape with his blue shirt and black jeans that stank of dried urine.

When he had run a short distance, Daniel could make out something that looked like a leaky old water tower. Instinctively, he headed towards the water jet that was leaking out of the tower. He stood under the water, drank it and became soaking wet. Time was of the essence, but he wouldn’t last long as a prisoner on the run without any water.

He continued down the dirt track for a while, but the buildings on both sides were surrounded by tall walls, which made it impossible to hide. The road split and as he made a left, he could see a man watching him from a window. He also passed two women who tried to make contact with him and he shouted as naturally as possible ‘mafi mushkila’, ‘no problem’, before he followed the wall around the corner to the right. The stones cut his feet. It felt surreal to be free.

Around the corner he caught sight of a hole in a wall, where there was just enough space for a body of his size to squeeze through. He crawled through it and came out in a garden with tall grass in front of a house. For a moment he stood still and breathed deeply. In the grass in front of him was a pair of old trousers filled with what looked like sticks of dynamite. A feeling of panic set in, he felt trapped. The women could have alerted someone about the blond man they had seen running around barefoot in the neighbourhood.

He clambered back through the hole and ran further down the dirt road towards a more open landscape. His scratched feet left a bloody trail behind them, and the neighbourhood was about to wake up. He could make out a few scattered settlements on the horizon, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to run for several kilometres. Instead, he ran out into a cornfield, where he threw himself on his knees and took off his blue shirt to camouflage himself and proceeded to crawl forwards on his elbows.

He could feel the dry earth clods and rocks scraping against his naked torso. However, he couldn’t carry on in a straight line because the corn was too low in some places to conceal him.

Suddenly he heard voices from somewhere behind him. He stopped crawling and lay completely flat on the ground for a moment, before he curled up in a foetal position and waited for the voices to disappear.

It sounded as if several men were talking together as they stamped about in the corn. Daniel leaned forwards slightly to see where they were and discovered that there was a man standing right next to him. When the man looked at him, straight in the eye, Daniel leapt up in a split second and sprinted further into the cornfield.

The men behind him were now shouting loudly in Arabic, and his legs were heavy, as if he were running on a cushion. He heard gunfire. Bullets whizzed past his ears. Daniel threw himself to the ground in a mixture of exhaustion and fear of being hit. Men he didn’t recognize bent over him.

‘I am Daniel, from Denmark,’ he panted, and he told them they would get money if they helped him over the border into Turkey. A short, fat man tied his hands behind his back and lost control of his gun, which went off into the ground. Daniel almost smiled. If they were such amateurs, he thought, he might be able to persuade them to drive him towards Turkey.

They put him into the back seat of a car parked on an adjacent road and drove in the direction he had just been running from.

The car stopped at a sand-coloured house surrounded by a wall. They led him down into a cellar, where they provided him with a bottle of water that had been in the freezer and a cigarette.

Daniel inhaled the cold water and cigarette, while he showed them the bruises on his torso and neck. They didn’t speak any English, but seemed to understand. Did they also understand that he wanted to go home?

They threw him back into the car, in the trunk this time, and drove for quite a while. They made short stops along the way - it sounded like they were buying groceries.

They pulled him down into another cellar - a kind of banqueting hall, where weddings might be held. There were oversized Arab sofas lined up against the walls. Daniel was allowed to have his hands untied to go to the toilet and wash himself. They gave him an extra-large pullover to wear.

A couple of kind older men came by with chocolate, coffee, biscuits and water. Daniel began to believe he might see his mother again. Some boys came along wearing Arsenal jerseys and studied him closely, along with the rest of the gathering, as he once again displayed his various marks and scars. Until a voice made him shudder.

‘Helloooo Daniel. We’ve missed you. Where have you been?’

His tormentor, Abu Hurraya, stood in the doorway, handcuffs at the ready.

· * ·

A piercing pain jolted Daniel’s body. The handcuffs had been tightened so much that they cut into his skin, while the torturer led him to a water pipe that ran vertically between floors.

‘Welcome back!’ shouted Abu Hurraya.

Daniel’s escape had been a total failure. He had been driven back to the building where he’d been detained. The biscuits and water had been only a fleeting pleasure. Ultimately, someone had called Abu Hurraya. Maybe they didn’t dare take the risk of helping a foreigner. Perhaps the locals were also afraid of ending up like him.

Abu Hurraya’s men put shackles around his left ankle and locked it to the pipe, while his upper body was fastened to the pipe with thick chains. A prison guard put a plastic fastener of the type electricians use to hold cables together around Daniel’s neck and tightened it. The plastic strip pierced his skin in the same way as the handcuffs. He had difficulty breathing and soon passed out, so the guard took it off.

The following three days he spent chained to the pipe merged into a blur. He had reached a state of total exhaustion. Three weeks had now passed since he had been captured and he was starving, thirsty and urinating in his trousers. His body simply couldn’t take it any more. The heavy chains forced him into an awkward, half-standing position. The kicks and blows that he regularly received to his ribs no longer hurt, but the handcuffs did. It felt as if the metal had cut through his skin and was now directly scraping against his open wounds.

The guards turned up in groups and egged each other on, shouting and screaming that he was going to die. They played games in which they kicked, beat and whipped Daniel across the chest until he finally confessed that he was a spy, which they so badly wanted to hear.

Daniel fainted. When he woke up, he thought he was at home with his grandmother at her yellow house in Hedegård. Then he lost consciousness again and dreamed that he was going to be killed by gunfire out in the cornfield.

At one point he stirred at the sound of chairs scraping around him and he could hear an unfamiliar, deeper, slightly older voice. Maybe this was who the others had been waiting for. Maybe now he was going to find out what real torture felt like.

The voice spoke Arabic with a different and lighter tone. The older man suddenly moved towards Daniel and loosened the chains, so he could sit. Daniel wept with joy. Tears streamed underneath the blindfold and down his cheeks as he slumped on the floor. It was confusing to think someone was being nice to him.

‘Water,’ asked Daniel.

The kind man filled a water bottle, which Daniel finished, then asked for more. Daniel was also given a couple of puffs on a cigarette - the other captors usually didn’t smoke. He knew that the man was sharing his cigarette out of kindness, without his superiors’ knowledge.

Daniel ate what seemed like life-saving biscuits until his mouth was dry and he had to drink more water. Then, lying on the floor, he drifted into a nightmare-free sleep. He awoke to a beating by Abu Hurraya. The friendly man had disappeared, leaving only the torturer in his stead.

Abu Hurraya ordered him to stand on one leg, but Daniel could not and collapsed on the floor. Then he had to lie on his back and stretch his legs backwards over his head and get up on his feet again. Abu Hurraya opened Daniel’s trousers, pulled them down and pressed something that felt like a candle against Daniel’s buttocks. Daniel was on the verge of fainting from fear. Abu Hurraya spoke Arabic and Daniel sensed that he was talking about his genitals while he squeezed one of his testicles very tightly.

Daniel screamed and the fear turned into rage. He wanted to kill him. It was the first time that he had ever wanted to kill someone.

‘Daniel jahass!’ shouted Abu Hurraya, using the Arabic word for donkey or mule, while he pulled Daniel’s trousers up again and disappeared.

Daniel pissed himself and someone came to mop up the floor.

· * ·

It was the middle of the day and the heat was rising from the asphalt. Daniel was led out of the building blindfolded and thrown into the back of a box van. Soon, more prisoners were piled into the van on top of him.

They all reeked of sweat and their weight pressed on to his hands, making his handcuffs dig even deeper into his raw flesh. He tried turning to spare his wrists, while the van bumped along, but it hurt so much that he decided he would rather be knocked about.

When the van stopped, he was led into a room with a toilet. A chain was hung around his neck and chest and he was locked to a sink. He enjoyed his solitude away from the busy foyer, where he had felt he was constantly being watched. In the following four days he drank foul-smelling but vital water from the toilet bowl. No water came out of the tap.

The pain from the handcuffs permeated his sleep. In his dreams he lived in a cycle of failed escape attempts. He ran into things, couldn’t get up, fell down; people lied and laughed and wouldn’t remove his handcuffs as they had promised.

He woke up in pain and shifted his position from right to left without finding relief.

It was around 10 June when a prison guard came to move him again. His next destination was to be the basement of the torture centre where some other western hostages were already being held captive.