Frenchman Nicolas Henin told a US court on Wednesday that the ruthless “Beatles” of the Islamic State (ISIS) found it funny to sing a gruesome parody of the “Hotel California” strike on their “terrified” hostages.
The former war correspondent turned consultant is one of a group of 27 Western journalists and humanitarian workers kidnapped by the Islamic State in Syria between 2012 and 2015, ten of whom were executed.
He testified on Wednesday on the sixth day of the trial of al-Shafi’i al-Sheikh, a 33-year-old man whose hostages accused him of belonging to a group of jihadists whose hostages dubbed “The Beatles” because of their British accent.
Nicholas Henein, who was kidnapped in Raqqa on June 22, 2013 by other kidnappers, first heard of them in August, when Briton David Haines and Italian Federico Mutka joined him in arrest several weeks later under the thumbs of these “sadistic” Britons.
“When I saw them, I thought of images of the liberation of prisoners from Nazi camps at the end of World War II,” said the French, referring to the extreme thinness and fragility of the two men.
These humanitarian workers from the NGO Acted admit that they were tortured by three men they named “Ringo, John and George”.
– Osama Hotel –
In September, the trio visited this small group of prisoners. “Federico and David were terrified and trembling,” recalls Nicolas Henin.
Quickly, the other hostages were struck by the same fear.
The Beatles, who have become regular visitors, love to strike, force their prisoners to kneel before them and impose on them “calling sessions,” an hour of religious and political rhetoric that “served above all to justify” the kidnapping.
And in December they “forced us to sing a parody of +hotel + hotel +, which became + hotel Osama +” “in reference to bin Laden.” “It was basically: Welcome to the Osama Hotel, which you will never leave, and if you try, you will be killed in Mr. Bigley’s fashion.”
British engineer Ken Bigley was beheaded in Iraq in 2004 by the Islamist group Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and his killing was captured in a propaganda video.
“It was terrifying to us, but they saw it as a joke,” said Nicolas Henin.
– July 4th raid –
In January, all the hostages gathered in the south of Raqqa in a place where they baptized the “Badiya Prison”. Nikola Henn gets acquainted with the place: he was arrested immediately after his arrest.
It was also there where he managed to escape on the third day of his arrest, through the window of which he tore off the bars. “Unfortunately,” after a night of walking, he came across “ISIS fighters” and was taken back to his jailers.
He was then subjected to a torture session in order, beaten and hung in the air for hours under the scorching sun.
Although he fails, this episode gives him a good knowledge of the place. After his release in April 2014 along with three other French journalists – Didier François, Pierre Torres and Edouard Elias – he was able to describe this prison accurately to the agents who interrogated him.
He speaks privately to American soldiers who want to attempt a raid to free American and British hostages, whose governments refuse to pay the ransom.
“Nicolas Henin made a drawing that turned out to be particularly useful,” then told the bar that an FBI agent, Robert Daniel Storey, was involved in this delicate operation.
On July 4, US National Day, soldiers land in helicopters in the “Desert Prison”. After an exchange of fire, they entered the building. “But the hostages are no longer there, they have been moved,” Mr. Storey recalls. “It was a huge disappointment.”
In the following months, many of them, including the three Americans James Foley, Peter Kassig and Stephen Sotloff, suffered the same fate as Ken Bigley.
Their death deserves al-Shafi’i al-Sheikh, who was arrested by Syrian Kurdish forces in 2018, to stand trial in the United States. His trial is expected to last two more weeks.