UK

Syrian rebel I called a friend shot me, says Times reporter

  • 19 May 2014
  • From the section UK
Anthony Loyd, reporter for The Times

The Times reporter Anthony Loyd has told the BBC how he was betrayed by a rebel gang in Syria who beat him badly and shot him twice in the ankle.

Loyd and photographer Jack Hill were returning to Turkey from the Syrian city of Aleppo when they were seized.

He described how the leader of the kidnap gang, a man called Hakim, was someone who had previously helped him and whom he had reason to trust.

Loyd was eventually freed when a leader of Islamic Front rebels intervened.

The reporter, 47, told the Today programme how he, the photographer and their Syrian fixer, Mahmoud, were taken from their vehicle while travelling towards the Turkish border.

They were first taken to the basement of an agricultural building outside the town of Azaz, where they were put in hoods, plasticuffs and blindfolded.

After about an hour they were moved to a lock-up garage near a neighbouring town.

It was at this point that Loyd understood his captors' motives.

"They were laughing and saying 'How much do you think you're worth?'" he said. "It was very clear it was an abduction for money."

Violent struggle

Not long afterwards, the fixer, Mahmoud, who was still in the boot of the car they had been brought in, managed to free himself from his plasticuffs.

"The key to our liberty was the decision of Mahmoud... to kick that boot open, leap out and attack the guard.

"Hill [who was also still in the boot] followed him out, a violent struggle ensued with the guard and they then ran.

"I suddenly heard a voice in the distance shouting 'run'. So I flipped up my blind, saw I was alone in the lock-up and at that moment chose to run up the stairs and escape across the roofs.

Photographer Jack Hill was badly beaten, like Loyd, by their captors.

Mahmoud managed to get away and, says Loyd, "from that point on, it became very difficult for the kidnap gang to continue with the plans they had for us".

Loyd says that as he fled over the rooftops he saw Hill on the ground below, being beaten by Hakim "who until that morning had been our host and someone we had known for a long time over a two-and-a-half -year period".

Says Loyd: "At that moment it was an awful realisation that the one person in this group we thought might have been coming to look for us, to help us, was in fact our abductor.

'I was bleeding'

"Finally I ran out of roof," said Loyd. "I dropped down into a courtyard, which was empty. I got into a kitchen and found a carving knife which I clamped between my teeth.

"I was trying to saw my plasticuffs off when I heard the sound of armed men breaking through a door and running in so I raised my hands and came out.

"About six other gunmen bowled up - they laid into me immediately with rifle butts and fists.

Loyd and Hill had been trying to tell the story of civilians in Aleppo.

"I was dragged out into the street and I was bleeding. Hakim walked up. I said to him 'I thought you were our friend' and he pulled out his gun and shot me twice in the ankle, deliberately to cripple me.

"And after that followed a very protracted beating."

Loyd was then moved again, in a car, and was eventually taken to what he described as a field clinic.

"As the ratio of people in the room between doctors and fighters changed, so the mood in the room changed.

"And then the doctors starting looking at me and saying 'You're safe now and nothing is going to happen to you'.

"And then a very tall, powerfully built commander from the Islamic Front [rebel group] walked in and said 'Why is this man in manacles? Cut him loose and set him free.'

"Hakim's men tried to remonstrate with him and he just looked at them with utter contempt and gestured for them to leave and they left."

Silent majority

Loyd said the critical factor was that Mahmoud, having escaped, had managed to contact the Islamic Front and tell them about the gang holding foreign hostages.

Asked about his relationship with Hakim, an accountant-turned-rebel commander, Loyd said: "I would never have called Hakim a good guy... Hakim is someone who had given me shelter, broken bread with me and looked after me and I had a reasonable, logical basis to trust him.

"One can look at the Syrian war in a binary fashion as just a struggle between equal evils - a savage regime and a savage rebel grouping.

"But I don't think that's the right way of looking at it. It is the third group, the silent majority, which are Syria's civilians, who are carrying the brunt of this war and whose story is increasingly ignored if you choose to see it in a binary fashion.

"One of the most aggravating things is that we worked really hard for five days in Aleppo with the civilian population.

"We worked to illuminate their plight and Hakim's decision to kidnap us and seize our equipment stole the voice of his own people."