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Face to face with ‘the Beatles’, the Isis torture squad

Ricardo Vilanova by no means sought after to be a part of the tale. The Spanish photojournalist went to Syria in 2011 to hide the revolution brewing towards Bashar al-Assad. However on the finish of 2013 there used to be no company flooring within the conflict. The rebels he concept would supply coverage didn’t and he used to be taken hostage through Islamic State. The fracturing panorama introduced a flood of latest international opponents.

The lads who captured Ricardo had been from west London, a gang of 4 who had been identified to their captives as “the Beatles” and would turn into infamous as torturers and killers. One, Mohammed Emwazi, used to be killed in a drone strike in 2015. Every other, Aine Davis, is doing time in a Turkish prison after being convicted on terrorism fees closing 12 months.

The opposite males suspected of being a part of the gang, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, are locked up, below US guard, at an undisclosed location in northern Syria. In combination, the 4 males are accused of involvement within the beheading of 27 males. Each Kotey and Elsheikh, who had been captured through Kurds in January, deny they had been a part of the torture cellular.

Ricardo used to be free of captivity in 2014 after 8 months: the Spanish executive is assumed to have paid a ransom. He used to be flown again to Spain through non-public jet, cameras ready at the runway, and nonetheless he didn’t wish to be part of the tale.

The crimes had been so appalling I didn’t need part of it, both. I’d spoken to different skilled reporters who had interviewed Kotey and Elsheikh they usually mentioned it used to be a irritating and disconcerting enjoy.

One veteran correspondent warned me to watch out; he nervous that all over his interview the suspects may had been seeking to ship coded messages of their solutions. And so they had been at risk of preaching; giving a platform to such males used to be no longer what any information organisation needs to do. They confirmed no regret at being a part of Isis, and expressed no sympathy for its sufferers.

However then, closing month, I met Ricardo. My Syrian manufacturer knew him, and steered he may, for the primary time, wish to proportion his tale – and, additionally, he sought after to fulfill the boys who had captured him. Once I sat down with him in Erbil, in northern Iraq, he advised me why: “I wish to glance them within the eyes,” he mentioned.

There’s a quiet fearlessness about this guy. He used to be again at paintings a month after his kidnapping. “I’m a freelancer, I’ve to paintings,” he joked. Like most of the former hostages, he’s going to no longer say a lot about what they persisted of their darkish, freezing cells. “It used to be like being below the keep an eye on of psychopaths and lunatics,” he mentioned.

Ricardo Vilanova

Ricardo Vilanova used to be held captive through Isis for 8 months earlier than he used to be freed in 2014. : Quentin Sommerville

His limbs nonetheless pain from captivity and he favours one aspect when napping now. There used to be no option to lie flat and leisure within the cellular; the boys had been shackled in combination and stored barefoot to forestall break out. Once in a while their tormentors slept within the subsequent room. Every now and then, the sounds of torture and of killing may well be heard day-to-day.

Their British jailers would, he mentioned, display them the executions in their pals. They had been 19 males held in combination and tortured bodily and mentally. Weapons had been pressed towards their heads, swords to their throats, they usually had been overwhelmed. British, US, Jap and Russian hostages had been murdered, amongst them support staff David Haines and Alan Henning and American citizens James Foley, Abdulrahman Peter Kassig and Steven Sotloff.

Now Ricardo sought after to confront Kotey and Elsheikh. So we travelled to the city of Kobani to publish an interview request with the Kurdish forces in price. The 2 males are held in solitary confinement; they mentioned they didn’t know that Britain used to be making an attempt to have them attempted in america, a transfer that brought about a row in parliament and has been stopped for the instant through a judicial assessment.

Ricardo mentioned: “They’d name themselves the elite of the Islamic State however, when Raqqa fell, they had been a number of the first ones who attempted to escape town and save their lives.”

All of this in a town that used to be below assault. There have been days when the partitions and the home windows in their prison cells shook and trembled from the bombings. When they heard a gun fight within reach: the hostages had been grabbed and thrown into vehicles – they had been price an excessive amount of to depart at the back of. “They had been about to lose all their prisoners on a number of events as a result of they had been dropping flooring impulsively at that second of the conflict,” Ricardo mentioned.

Even as of late, Ricardo is widely recognized in Syria – this used to be his fourth travel this 12 months – and folks had been desirous about his tale, slapping him at the again and pronouncing they admired his nerve for coming again. A gathering used to be organized.

I sat with Kotey and Elsheikh first. They spun an implausible tale about how, in Syria’s chaos, that they had merely sought coverage from Isis. They claimed by no means to have met any of the hostages. Out of doors, within the subsequent room, Ricardo listened and waited. They had been boastful, cracked jokes and confirmed no regret. Elsheikh sought after to understand how different reporters had portrayed them. It used to be his simplest query in regards to the out of doors global. He’s accused of waterboarding, crucifixions and killings. He rubbed his prayer beads all the way through the interview.

Kotey could also be accused of torture, together with electrical shocks; it’s alleged he used to be a recruiter, liable for bringing others to Isis. Each males refused to respond to any questions about what they did for Isis.

I requested them in the event that they knew Emwazi, the person referred to as Jihadi John, who performed the a part of leader executioner within the beheading movies. “He’s a chum of mine,” mentioned Kotey. He went on to color an unrecognisable portrait of a person the remainder of the arena will take into account just for his brutality and sadism.

It used to be nauseating. Once I requested Ricardo about their feedback, he pushed aside them with fun. “Jihadi John used to be an entire psycho, he used to be brainless and he loved making people endure,” he mentioned.

Quentin Sommerville.

Quentin Sommerville.

Emwazi used to be killed in 2015. “They droned him in the midst of Raqqa. As they had been planning on doing with us,” mentioned Elsheikh.

They tried to behave as although that that they had been wronged they usually had been well-prepared and cautious of their solutions. Kotey discussed Allah simplest as soon as and corrected himself, pronouncing God as an alternative.

It used to be Ricardo’s flip now. As he entered the room, the blood moon nonetheless hung within the transparent sky. Used to be there a flicker of popularity from the suspects? Most likely.

He sought after to invite them if that they had a message for his or her daughters and for the kids of the boys they’re accused of murdering, and sought after to understand why that they had fled the battlefield like cowards.

Their temper modified: they had been all at once uncooperative, and refused to respond to. They seemed rattled and reached below their shirts to drag off their microphones. Ricardo stared at them frequently.

The interview used to be over, and the Spaniard reached for his digicam. He left the room and throughout the caged window he tried to take a final image of the boys accused of torturing him and murdering his pals. They driven the window closed, seeking to close him out. However he were given the image.

We had been invited for a overdue dinner with the native safety forces: the desk used to be heaped with kebabs, hummus and extra but even so. Our ideas grew to become to Haines, Foley and the opposite murdered males.

“The one factor to mention about James, Steven, David, Alan, Peter is they had been outstanding folks and that they confronted loss of life with the energy the ‘Beatles’ lacked when their second arrived,” Ricardo mentioned.

This used to be the tale he by no means sought after to be part of, however he had finished it. He picked up his digicam, left the eating place and were given able for day after today’s project.

Quentin Sommerville is Center East correspondent for BBC Information

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