Although foreign policy experts and human behaviour psychologists can analyse the motivations of western jihadists pledging allegiance to a failing state, few have probably come close to interacting with them on a daily basis as the hostages they took by force.
A report from Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Lateline sheds light on the experiences of several hostages that seem to corroborate the over-the-top actions of their captors who originated from Europe. By doing so, the report has laid bare some of the militants’ underlying motivations.
In the Lateline interview, French journalist Nicolas Henin recounts his 10 months as a prisoner after being captured in Syria by ISIS militants. He differentiated between the local jihadists who had a more specific agenda, and those who merely harbored ill-will for fellow westerners.
“This mad enterprise of hostage taking was mostly [a] kind of revenge of westerners against westerners … we were almost two dozen western hostages held by mostly western captors,” he explained to Lateline.
“It can sound weird … but we … were sometimes protected by local Syrian members of IS against the violence of foreigners,” Henin continued in the Lateline report.” For the locals, their jihad, their holy war, had a much more local agenda.”
Another prisoner who shared the same cell with Henin also recounted his ordeal as ISIS’ prisoner. Daniel Rye Ottosen, who was released after paying ransom, spent 13 months being tortured by the likes of British citizen Mohammed Emwazi.
“What Daniel was explaining to me was that there was a clear difference between the local guards around him and the foreign guards,” explained Danish journalist Puk Damsgaard, who has since chronicled Ottosen’s tale in her book, ‘The ISIS Hostage: One Man’s True Story of 13 Months in Captivity.’
“The foreign guards … were among the most violent and I think some of the things that motivated them was clearly what they grew up [with] in back in England or back in France … and what they have seen on the international stage — political reasons rather than necessarily religious,” said Damsgaard to Lateline.
Amidst the whipping and beatings, Ottosen was also the subject of humiliation by Emwazi. Ottosen was forced to dance the tango and sing songs. His experiences grew to the point where he even attempted suicide, only to be eventually caught by his captors.
However, it doesn’t appear that Ottosen bears hatred toward his oppressors. On the contrary, in a Newsweek interview, he explained that if he was faced with them today, he would not engage them physically, but instead do so with social discourse.
“I do not think that any of them were evil,” he said in Newsweek. “I remember in the schoolyard … some of the kids who are the weakest are also the ones who do cruel things to protect themselves and to hide their weaknesses.”
“So I think some of the people who were very violent to us had issues. You do it because you need to prove something to somebody. I feel a little bit sorry for some of them.”
Although the number of these tourist-terrorists from foreign nations may at first glance be worrisome, the recent progress of coalition forces in what was once ISIS-held territories could ultimately convince foreign fighters that ISIS is truly terrible.