In 2014, five American citizens were being held by Islamic militants in Syria. Only Theo Padnos survived.
Padnos will speak about his 22-month ordeal as a captive of al-Qaeda on Thursday, March 21, at 1:30 p.m. in the Meagher Theatre at Neumann University. The program is free and open to the public.
A journalist, Theo Padnos was held captive in Syria by Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front) from 2012 to 2014. At the time, al-Nusra was a Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda. Padnos was terrified of his captors and never knew from day to day whether he would live or die.
His captivity began in October 2012 when he met three men in Turkey who said they could put him in touch with the Free Syrian Army. Padnos was freelancing, asking questions of locals, and looking for a way into Syria. He wanted to interview both rebels and civilians in Aleppo, in the hope of publishing an article about the Syrian civil war. But the men quickly turned on him and beat him severely. He managed to escape, only to fall into the hands of al-Nusra. For almost two years he was subjected to beatings and kept in small, darkened cells at various locations before his captors released him to a United Nations team near the Syrian-Israeli border in August 2014.
Trying to make sense of his treatment, Padnos writes that Syrians “feel their sacred place, namely their home, is under attack, as it most certainly is, that their real enemies are out of reach and so they pick on whoever happens to be close to hand … and that they love defeating these enemies, no matter how trivial or cruel or pointless their victories are, because defeating anyone, even a helpless person in handcuffs, makes them feel they are establishing God’s law on earth.”
His story has been made into a movie, Theo Who Lived, a tale of how one man’s fluency in Arabic and unique personality led to a remarkable understanding of his captors.