Held prisoner by ISIS for 40 days last winter Turkish photojournalist Bunyamin Aygun told his story to the newspaper that employed him, Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper, back in January. But at the time, few outside of Turkey — or even inside the country — paid much attention to the former ISIS hostage’s harrowing tale.
His story also contains a dire warning. Turkey is the next target for a takeover by the Islamic State, and the terror group already has a network in place there.
But after the sudden and shocking military advances by ISIS in Iraq as well as in Syria, and the grotesque beheadings of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, new attention is now focused on Aygun’s inside details of life in the hands of ISIS terrorists, and he is telling his story again, this time to the Washington D.C.-based Al-Monitor, an online site that focuses on the Middle East.
And the details are just as horrifying as would be expected, a 40-day ordeal that Aygun says “felt like 40 years,” in which his captors kept him bound and blindfolded at all times, incessantly quizzed him about his personal habits and beliefs, and threatened him with death over and over again.
“Are you Muslim, Sunni, Alevi? Recite a prayer. Give us all your passwords. Who are those women on your Facebook page?” Aygun, a Turkish Muslim, said that his captors would ask him over and over again. “Do you drink? Who are you working for? Give us some names. What is your real name?”
The only time his blindfold and restraints were removed were during the five prayers every day. But Aygun, not an especially religious man, didn’t know the procedure. Being perceived as anything less than a devout Muslim in the eyes of his captors, he knew, would be a death sentence.
But a fellow hostage, a commander in the Free Syrian Army, showed him how it was done.
Perhaps most ominously, Aygun said that he learned that ISIS has an extensive network in Turkey and warned him that his home country, was “next.”
Aygun said that most of the ISIS fighters in charge of his captivity were Turks, both from Turkey and from Germany. He said that by their manner of speech, they seemed young and mostly well-educated.
They told him that his case was being reviewed by a qadi — an Islamic judge — who would decide whether he would be freed, or beheaded. And about 20 days into his imprisonment, the qadi’s ruling came down.
But when the time came for his scheduled beheading, none of the ISIS fighters came to take him away, In fact, he was alone for three days.
“Had they left me to starve to death? Had they all died in battle? The silence was unbearable,” he told Al-Monitor.
When the ISIS militants returned, they did not kill him. As it turned out, the Turkish secret intelligence agency was negotiating secretly to win his release. In the end, Aygun was freed by a rival Syrian militia and was able to return home safely.