Syrian Photographer Milad Shihabi .. My Detention in ISIS prisons
I participated in the Syrian revolution since it started in the north of Syria in Aleppo. And I worked as a photographer since the beginning of the peaceful movement to let the world know what’s happening in Syria. When the Free Syrian Free Army (FSA) entered Aleppo City, I filmed the battles between FSA and Regime’s Army. After a period, ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) appeared.
I had filmed ISIS violations in Aleppo and I received several threats in Sep. 2013 when the abduction of activists started.
Therefore, I left Syria towards Turkey for a whole month. More than 150 informants also left Aleppo. When I went back Syria on 17th Oct. 2013 I started filming the Regime’s violations in bombing Aleppo. I was exposed to two abduction attempts; the first one was in east Aleppo in Al-Haidaria Rotary while filming a massacre carried out by the regime and I’ve escaped because one of the soldiers was my friend and helped me.
The second time was when a school in Al-Haidaria Neighborhood had been bombed and I was heading to the bombing place, and on my way there I came across one of FSA members and he said to me that there are members of ISIS and I should pay attention. I got there to the bombing place and I requested to film and they took my ID and asked me for whom I work as a photographer. They threatened to detain me, but I talked to them and then I left peacefully on 27th Des. 2013. I filmed almost five massacres daily and I used to leave my office at ten o’clock every day.
One day I had a lot of work and my cousins, my brother and my friend were with me. My cousins and my brother left the office at 10:15 pm and my friend stayed with me until 10:25 when we heard someone knocking at the door. I asked my friend to open the door because I expected that one of my relatives came back. When he opened the door, I didn’t hear any sound for a minute or less; then a man in black entered the office wearing a mask and holding a gun. I thought that one of my friends was joking with me so I smiled, then four men followed him wearing Afghan cloths and told me “look straight down”.
I was so frightened, they blindfolded my eyes and chained my hands. They laid me on the floor and asked me where the net device, the cameras and the electrical generator were. They took an amount of money and asked if my family would pay ransom to get me back. They insulted me and hit me inside the office then they took me out barefoot with seven guns pointing at me. Before we arrived to their car, one of them said to me “Do you want me to smuggle you?” I asked “who are you?” They put me in the car trunk and turned on the tape recorder and then they started roaming in Aleppo streets, when they arrived to Al-Haidaria Rotary they rotated around it more than five times to prevent me from realizing where they were taking me. After more than an hour of roaming they took me out of the car and let me into their headquarter. After going down about 20 steps, they let me stand near the staircase for 10 minutes without any sound around me.
Someone came and asked me why I am there and I said that I have no idea. He asked me what’s my job? I said Shahbaa Press Reporter. He asked if it’s a T.V channel and I said no, it’s a local agency. They put me in a solitary cell for three days. I didn’t know where I am. I could just hear the voices of the interrogators. Their accents were so similar to the regime’s interrogators’ accent. And when I heard names such as Abu Haidar and Abu Dajana, I was so afraid because I thought that I was in the regime’s areas. There were warplanes and one of the near neighborhoods exposed to bombing. One of ISIS members was talking that the bombing were in “Muwasalat Neighborhood”; this neighborhood is one of the liberated areas. So I knew that I were at ISIS detention center in the children’s hospital, which was their main headquarter near “Muwasalat Neighborhood”. Then they put me in another cell with Yahya Al-Salloom, brother of Orient Reporter Mo’ayad Al-Salloom. I talked to him, he told me that we were in ISIS detention in “Kadi Askar Neighborhood” in children’s hospital. I stayed in a cell blindfolded for ten days.
I was listening to interrogations with members of FSA and revolutionaries, and someone was exposed to torture. I asked for going to the toilet so one of the guards took me, I tried to see the person who was being tortured. The guard saw me, so when he brought me back to my cell he chained my hands for three days. The food was a potato or an egg with one piece of bread. I asked to find out why I was imprisoned.
They said it was because I say ISIS instead of The Islamic State and I offend the jihadis; so I requested to be referred to the judiciary to know what will be my fate. The judge requested me and asked me about my email and Facebook account and my Skype and he sent me back to my cell. Every ten minutes I was asking to see the judge but they said that it wasn’t the right time because they were fighting. At that time the clashes became so close to their headquarter so they took several detainees to the judge and one of them, namely Yahya Al-Salloom, was released. After that we heard the guards were asking each other about which prisoners they should release. One of them said that they will release the ones whose names were marked in blue, and the other said that he expect that they should release the ones whose names were marked in red because there were fewer names marked in blue. Another one suggested that they ask Abu Haidar, who told them that they should release the ones whose names were marked in red.
I was asking to go to the judge every minute. A big fuss was heard in the detention so one of the leaders at the ISIS called Abu Maria Al-Iraqi threatened the detainees and said that whoever wants to rebel against the Islamic State will be crushed. “We’re the Islamic State in Iraq, America failed to defeat us for ten years so don’t think that you could,” he said. One of the detainees asked him why he was talking to us this way, so he said that he was warning against from rebelling, adding that they put explosives in all corners of the building so they could blow it up at any time. I frequently asked to see the judge so Abu Maria moved me to another cell where I met two people I had known before, they were abducted since a while.
I met the other detainees, there were twelve people inside the cell, most of them were from FSA and revolutionaries. After two hours the guards called several names from the red list, among them were two people I had recently met. They were called Abu Minas and Minas and they were Armenian. After that there was no water or food for more than 24 hours. The next day they brought for every detainee a Falafel sandwich. After that we didn’t hear any sound from the guards. We knocked the doors so hard for water but no one answered. We were listening the sounds of the close clashes. I heard a member of Al-Tawhid Brigade saying “Islamic State members, you’re shooting towards us, there’s someone here shot in his shoulder because of you.” The answer was “Brother we’re not shooting towards you.” After 15 minutes one of Al-Tawhid Brigade fighters was shot in the head and then an attack with heavy weapons started towards ISIS headquarter. We were just knocking at the doors with no answer.
We started to think how could we get out of that prison. We prayed dawn prayer and promised not to cheat on each other. We were communicating with each other by the electrical sockets. We started trying though we were so frightened. We couldn’t break the cell’s window so we tried to break the clothes hanger.
Suddenly someone knocked at the door from outside, we felt afraid and asked him to bring us some water. He opened the door and said that we can go out. We couldn’t believe him cause he might be an ISIS member but he took off his mask and told us that he was a detainee like us. We got out to the aisle; there were more than 300 detainees. I entered the interrogation room to look for my ID or anything to prove my personality but I found nothing but some guns and light weapons which the detainees took, and some of them held palette-knives.
A group of fifty people went up to the first floor to get out of the building, they found a gas jar connected with electric wires. Someone said that there was ISIS members at the upper floor so the group went back to the basement except one who held the gas jar saying Allah Akbar and opened the door for the others. The first group got out followed by the second one and I was among them, we were repeating slogans such as “Free Army forever would defeat ISIS and Al-Assad” to let the FSA know that we were detainees and not to shoot us. When we arrived to SFA’s members most of the detainees status were so bad with long hair, long beards and bare feet. We all cried with joy.
I met more than 20 people I knew who were abducted but we knew nothing about them. I went with a friend of mine called Ahmad Brimo, who was also a detainee, to the nearest informative office to spread the news about liberating the children’s hospital “the headquarter of ISIS” and the entering of FSA to the building. Several informants went there and depicted and discovered that there was a massacre of detainees.
Videos and photos were published after a while through social media about what happened at the prison. I recognized two of the dead I had met in the prison. They were the Armenians Abu Minas and Minas. ISIS killed them with a number of Aleppo activists and FSA fighters. ISIS killed them while they were blindfolded and chained.
My friends and the FSA members prevented me from going back home, as ISIS were there. I stayed with one of the FSA factions for two days. And after I appeared on media talking about ISIS, they raided my house looking for me, FSA fighters arrested them and I went to my house with five guards from the FSA. ISIS continued threatening me and my family through the internet.
After two explosions that happened so close to my house, my family had to leave Syria and I stayed to continue my job in broadcasting the Syrian revolution news stories and to participate in all the revolutionary works.