I was kidnapped by al Qaeda – and survived [journalist Michael Ware’s story]
Only one known westerner has ever been kidnapped by al Qaeda and survived.
He is Michael Ware.
In 2004, the former Time Magazine and CNN correspondent was kidnapped by al Qaeda in Baghdad, dragged into an anonymous building and told he was about to film his own execution.
Here, for the first time, Ware tells his incredible story:
By MICHAEL WARE
“[It was] late 2004, a month or so before the Battle of Fallujah. Al Qaeda in Iraq had come to dominate an essential part of [Baghdad]. One of my friends, who was a mid-ranking Nationalist insurgent commander, showed up at my house and explained to me, ‘Al Qaeda has just taken over. The boss has sent me here to come and bring you in and show you.’
“So one of my beloved Iraqi drivers, who speaks barely any English, this mid-ranking insurgent commander, who speaks barely any English, and me, who speaks barely any Arabic, hopped in the car and drove to this district. We went up and down the main boulevard, and there the tree-lined streets had al Qaeda’s flags hanging from every vantage point. There was literally dozens upon dozens of al Qaeda fighters brazenly out there in the open.
“We were just getting out to leave, driving back out of that district and, at the last minute, an al Qaeda fighter stepped out of the median strip. And, in the only film that I was able to keep from my kidnapping, you see this Al Qaeda fighter as he steps out with his left hand pulling the pin out of grenade that’s now been made live, with his arm cocked, holding the grenade and waving with his free hand.
“He held the live grenade to my head”
“We were forced to stop and then al Qaeda fighters swarmed the car. That same man with the grenade is the one who reached in the car and, with his free hand grabbing my collar, held the live grenade to my head and dragged me out of the car. I then had every manner of small arms pointed at my head from AK47’s to pistols.
“I was then dragged off the street and around behind the back of a massive Soviet-style apartment block. And someone had quickly ripped down one of the al Qaeda flags and hung it up on the wall where I was placed. It was an execution banner. It was the same banner that we saw in every video tape of every Westerner who was beheaded.
“They were going to film my execution”
“Some guys with the guns lined up in the very familiar form and I could physically see the guy who had the knife. And then I was just loosely placed in my position while everyone bustled and thronged around. They were going to film my execution with my own camera.
“So these chaps were holding it [the video camera] and started arguing with each other about how to operate my camera. Now, I certainly didn’t have an inclination to help them with that, but in those moments, the mid-ranking Nationalist commander who took me in there chose to speak up. And, in essence, he said, ‘So…what’s going on here?’ And they said, ‘Well, we’re going to cut his head off.’
“And he goes, ‘Right, alright. Well, you know, I brought him in here…He’s my guest.’
“In Arab culture, any invitation like this, to a house or to come with someone on a journey, invokes the deeply held Arab tradition and custom of hospitality. It strikes right at the heart of a man and a family’s honor. Even if his brother shows up to try and kill you, that man must fight to protect you. So the Nationalist mid-ranking commander was invoking that.
“He said, ‘I brought him in here. If you kill this guy, that’s an insult to me. Now you foreign al Qaeda fighters, you’ve been here long enough, you know who I am.’ And they said, ‘Yes we do, we know who you are, we respect you, and your fight against the Americans.’
“You expect him to leave alive? No!”
“But, what they said to him was…’You bring a Westerner in here and expect him to leave alive?! No, that doesn’t happen.’
“The mid-ranking commander responded by saying, ‘Alright, you’re going to insult me. Well you know who I work for [the ultimate commander for that part of Baghdad, a formidable and fearsome Nationalist commander]. Who do you think told me to bring him in here?’ Meaning, I was actually a guest of this very powerful Nationalist commander.
“What he was saying to them was, ‘Okay, you kill him, but that means you insult the ultimate commander. That means our organization is going to go to war with you.’ And that, that just started this furious discussion amongst the al Qaeda fighters and the Nationalists. And eventually, local al Qaeda guys from Iraq had to say to the Syrian al Qaeda fighters, ‘Do we really want to go to war over this guy?’ It was through gritted-teeth, literally, that the foreign al Qaeda fighters said, ‘Fine, you can have him’ and shoved me back. And we got out of there.
Only westerner to have been kidnapped by al Qaeda and lived
“That’s the way I became the only Westerner that we know of to have ever been kidnapped by al Qaeda in Iraq and who lived. I’m the only one.
“When we got back to the TIME Magazine house…I can’t remember that trip [driving back to the house]. We did it in silence. None of the three of us could speak. None of us wanted to, nor did we have anything to say.
“We get back to the house and, of course, there’s a great scene as the rest of the lads, Iraqi and international journalists are told what just happened.
“In the midst of the hubbub, my driver, Sammy, quietly pulled my English translator aside and brought him over to me. He said to the translator, ‘I want you to translate every single word I’m about to say.’ He then grabbed me by the shoulders and looked intently into my face.
“Now, this is a man who was a prominent Iraqi National boxing champion in the 1970’s, who like so many others, went into the Iran/Iraq war. The Iranians overran his battalion and, when he regained consciousness after the attack, he was alone in no man’s land, had to crawl his way out at night, and tripped a mine and lost half of his feet. So, this was a pretty extraordinary individual.
“And he stood there holding my shoulders and he said, ‘Mr. Mick, we died today. Every day from now on is a new life.’
For more up-to-date news on Michael Ware, visit www.mickware.com