ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Some of the 69 hostages rescued in a joint US-Kurdish operation from a prison near Hawija in Iraq last week recounted tales of torture and mock executions at the hands of the Islamic State group (ISIS), saying they faced imminent death had they not be freed.
In interviews with the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) several of the freed hostages – all of them Arabs – said they were blindfolded, tortured with electrical cables and daily heard gunshots from people being executed.
“They tortured us with electricity and put bags on our head until we could not breathe,” said Mohamed Hassan Abdulla, who is from the village of Alkhan in Kirkuk, where he was working in the police office.
“When one of their security officials visited us he was wearing a belt with explosives,” Abdulla told Rudaw. “He asked if we had eaten well, and said ‘if you ate well you will have a good torture,’” added Abdullah, who said he knew of two or three people executed daily.
Ahmed Mahmoud Mustafa said he was arrested four times by ISIS, and that each time he had been imprisoned for two to three weeks.
“The last time they kept me imprisoned for three months,” he said. “They would blindfold our eyes and tie our hands, and the first thing would be to pour water all over you and then torture you with electric cables until you agreed to confess. Even then, they would kill you.”
Mustafa said he was arrested together with his brothers, and they were all tortured.
“There were women with babies in their arms, pleading for mercy and being accused of many things,” said Mustafa, who thanked Kurdish and US forces for the rescue operation.
The KRSC declared Thursday’s rescue operation a success. It said that 20 ISIS fighters were killed and six arrested in the fight, while one American soldier was killed and three Peshmerga from the counter terrorism unit were wounded.
Hassan Hussein, from Hawija, said he had been imprisoned for five months, during which time he faced several mock executions.
“They would put a gun to my head and order me to confess. Most of the men confessed to all sorts of things, and many were executed. Our family had no idea we were alive or dead,” he said.
Saad Khalaf Ali Faraj, who was a police officer in Hawija, said he was jailed for more than seven months. “They also took my brother and he was beheaded. They only gave me his body, without his head. I had to bury the body without the head,” he recalled, thanking US and Kurdish forces for the 2 am rescue operation that got them out last week.
“This is not Islam,” said Fars Hussein Abdulla from Hawija about the ISIS group. “We were already dead. God sent us a force from the sky. They rescued us and brought us back to Kurdistan.”
Sayb Abdulla Masahir al-Jobouri, from Kirkuk, said he was arrested by ISIS after applying to the defense ministry as a volunteer soldier.
“ISIS told me I would be executed on Thursday or Friday,” said Jobouri, who like many prisoner said he believed his death was imminent when he was rescued. “Every day they were taking several people for execution. We were hearing gunshots all the time. They were burning the bodies. Thanks to the efforts of Kurdish and US forces, we were rescued.”
Akram Hussein Mohamed Zahir, from Hawija, has the marks of torture and beatings all over his body. “You can see the signs of beatings all over my head, legs and back. They broke my teeth. Lastly, they announced my execution date. They told me you are dead. You will witness your own death,” he told Rudaw.
Mohamed Abdul Jobouri, also from Hawija and a father of five, said he had been unemployed for 18 months and his family was starving when ISIS offered him a cylinder of cooking gas and some money if he agreed to do their bidding. He was imprisoned after refusing.
“How can I go and kill my Muslim brother? What if he has a family? His children will be waiting for him, his wife will be waiting for him,” he said, as he pleaded for himself and the other men in Hawija to be given a chance to fight for Kurdistan.