Syrian captors threatened to cut Turkish photojournalist ‘into pieces’

Syrian captors threatened to cut Turkish photojournalist ‘into pieces’

Syrian captors threatened to cut Turkish photojournalist ‘into pieces’

Bünyamin Aygün said he was rescued by the Free Syrian Army before being handed to a Turkish special unit. AA photo

Turkish journalist Bünyamin Aygün said the al-Qaeda-linked militants who captured him in Syria threatened to “cut him into pieces” as an “honorable execution,” after being freed on Jan. 5.

The daily Milliyet photo reporter was released after 40 days in captivity and returned to Turkey through the Cilvegözü border gate in Hatay, with a team of eight National Intelligence Organization (MİT) special unit members.

He stated that after 20 days of captivity, the person in the kidnapping group who was designated as the “kadı” (Muslim judge) ruled for his execution. 

“He said, ‘It’s either execution by fusillade or by being cut into pieces. We will cut you into pieces; this is more honorable for you.’ Of course, it has been very difficult,” Aygün said, adding that he spent 20 days with his hands handcuffed and eyes blindfold. He also said he was regularly moved to different places every three or four days, but his captivity conditions improved after the kidnappers were convinced he was not a spy.

Aygün said the group that kidnapped him was the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, adding that he was rescued by the Free Syrian Army following a raid at the house where he was being held captive.

“After the Foreign Ministry became engaged in the process, the Free Syrian Army conducted a big raid at the house where I was held captive in the basement. Not only was I not released, but the Free Syrian Army took [the kidnappers] hostage themselves,” he said. 

A Turkish special unit team reportedly entered 20 kilometers into Syria to bring the reporter back home.

“Every night, I had the same dream that I was being freed. I cannot believe I am free now. It feels like a dream,” Aygün said about his rescue. 

“2013 was a tremendously bad year for me. I lost my mother, colleagues. I always thought that I would be saved in 2014 if I could just stay alive in 2013,” he said. 

According to his colleagues, Aygün had returned to Syria for “one last story.” 

The much-anticipated release was announced by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu via Twitter on Jan. 5, a few hours after a demonstration by fellow journalists to urge authorities to intensify efforts for Aygün’s release. 

“Bünyamin Aygün is inside Turkey’s borders. Once again, welcome back to your country, Bünyamin,” Davutoğlu said. 

Twenty-five journalists have been killed since the start of the conflict in March 2011, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), while more than 30 journalists are estimated to have been abducted or detained.

The vast majority of the kidnappings over the past six months have occurred in opposition-held parts of northern and eastern Syria, where al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups are particularly strong.