'My five days in hell' - Canadian reporter in Iraq
'My five days in hell'
Reporter beaten, chained, threatened with death
The Ottawa Citizen
September 13, 2004
Veteran Canadian war correspondent, author and magazine publisher Scott Taylor has survived a horror-filled, brush-with-death kidnapping in Iraq by Islamist terrorists who came within a hair of beheading him.
Mr. Taylor, a frequent contributor to the Citizen from war zones such as the Middle East and the Balkans, was badly beaten, chained, blindfolded and handcuffed during his ordeal and repeatedly threatened with beheading by masked and hooded Turkmen and al-Qaeda terrorists who accused him of being an Israeli spy.
Last night, Mr. Taylor had safely crossed the Iraqi border into Turkey and was in touch with Canadian diplomats there who were "providing him with consular assistance."
In a telephone interview from a police station on the Turkish-Iraqi border, he told the Citizen: "Five days in hell, but now the nightmare is over.
"Six times in those five days I was convinced I was going to die right there on the spot. I can barely walk from the beatings I got, but it was the mental torture of thinking six times you're about to die that's tough."
Mr. Taylor said he was originally detained by Turkmen terrorists before being handed over to a non-Iraqi Arab group affiliated with al-Qaeda who dealt out the worst of the beatings he endured.
"Turkish intelligence people say I'm the only westerner ever released by the al-Qaeda group and they can't understand why," he said.
In Ottawa, Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Kimberly Phillips said the government was "aware of the situation" and had been in contact with Mr. Taylor, although details of his ordeal remained "sketchy." She said consular assistance would be provided to him and his family. The Turkish Embassy in Ottawa did not return calls.
Steve Pike, a press officer for the U.S. Department of State, said he hadn't heard about Mr. Taylor's case, but added: "We deplore hostage-taking and do not believe concessions should be made to terrorists."
Mr. Taylor's nightmare began last Wednesday when he travelled from Turkey into northern Iraq, accompanied by a Turkish reporter acting as his translator.
Mr. Taylor had travelled to Turkey to deliver the m****cript of a book he had written on the Turkmen of Iraq to a Turkish publisher. The Turkmen are one of the ethnic and religious factions that make up the mosaic of Iraq.
They have formed a coalition of Turkish groups known as the Iraqi Turkmen Front, which is demanding a major role in the future governance of the oil-rich northern region of Kirkuk, which it claims as the Turkmen capital.
While in Mosul, a Canadian aid worker contact tipped him that U.S. forces were planning a major push into Tal Afar, 50 kilometres away and about 60 kilometres from the Turkish border. It's one of the insurrection hot spots, such as Fallujah, that have become extremist-controlled no-go areas for American and Iraqi forces.
"It was dusk, almost dark, when we got there," Mr. Taylor said. "The road was crowded with people fleeing and we asked at a local police post how we could find a prominent politician I knew there, and they directed us to get into a cab."
The nightmare had begun. Inside the cab were four black-hooded terrorists brandishing rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The whole town was bristling with RPGs and AK-47s, with mujahedeen everywhere.
The cycle of accusations of espionage, handcuffs, blindfolded trips to a series of safe houses and beatings had begun, while Tal Afar braced for the expected American attack.
After enduring hours of questioning, Mr. Taylor convinced the captors' leader -- "the emir, an educated guy who spoke good English" -- that he really was the harmless Canadian journalist he claimed to be and was given a "Muslim promise" that tomorrow he would be free to go.
The "emir" drove off as the anticipated U.S. attack began and before the car had gone a block, Mr. Taylor says, "it was smoked by an Apache helicopter -- blown away in a puff of smoke."
The Americans sent in waves of Apache gunships and the terrorist fighters took heavy losses that night -- 125 wounded and 50 dead, including the emir.
Adding to Mr. Taylor's plight, the safe house they had fled as the offensive began took a direct hit, destroying his briefcase, which contained his passport and other identification papers, along with a video camera he'd been carrying.
"The house must have been targeted as a leadership centre and hit with a smart bomb," Mr. Taylor said last night. "It was amazing. There must have been 1,200 mujahedeen firing RPGs blind into the sky at the Apaches, all yelling 'Allahu akbar!'
"They've got guts. They actually cheer when they lose a guy -- another martyr."
The captives were passed along to another safe house and a new set of interrogators. "These guys, with the usual hoods, were really rough," said Mr. Taylor. "Here I am with no ID and an eagle tattoo on my arm, in a basement with 30 or 40 mujahedeen, it's 40 degrees and we're choking on dust. And there's a woman with several sons herself who's cooking for them and telling them to go out and die like their brothers."
There were more death threats, and Mr. Taylor is now convinced the only thing that kept him alive through the night was the dead emir's promise that he would be freed -- "the martyr's promise, they call it, and to Muslims it's sacred," he said.
"We spent the night on a farm, leaving Tal Afar with the fighters planning to go back as suicide bombers when the Americans moved in."
They travelled to Mosul, where Mr. Taylor was handed over to the group of foreign Arab fighters "who beat the living **** out of me."
With him chained to a bed, the death threats escalated with "life or knife" demands that he confess to working for Israel as a Mossad spy.
Then, without explanation, he was put in a cab, driven to the highway, and dumped -- free after "five days of hell."
Disruption on the cellphone to Iraq cut short the interview with the Citizen.
The drama in Ottawa began on Thursday, when Mr. Taylor failed to file a regular column on military and international affairs that he writes for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.
His wife Katherine subsequently received an e-mail and a frantic telephone call from the Turkish newspaper reporter acting as Mr. Taylor's translator, who had also been seized and later released while Mr. Taylor remained in captivity.
Mrs. Taylor immediately notified the Department of Foreign Affairs. Kidnapping Western aid workers and journalists has become a frequent terrorist tactic in Iraq since the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002, with gruesome taped footage of the victims' beheadings provided to Arab television networks such as al-Jazeera.
When Mr. Taylor was finally released yesterday, he was able to make a brief 2 a.m. call to his family in Ottawa.
"He sounded very shaken and upset," Mrs. Taylor told the Citizen. "He said he had been beaten up pretty badly and that the terrorists were Muslim fanatics. There was no question of a ransom or negotiation. If you were not a Muslim, then to them you were an infidel, a Jew, and you had to die. He was convinced he was going to die."
Canadian Survives Kidnapping in Iraq
© The Ottawa Citizen 2004