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Scott Henrichsen/The Daily Beast

Hostage

Jonathan Alpeyrie Taught A Syrian Warlord How to Swim

After 81 days in captivity, you really get to know someone. Photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie recalls teaching a Syrian warlord how to swim.

It’s not all soldiers and veterans at The Hero Summit. You’ve probably never heard of Jonathan Alpeyrie, and you may not think of photographers as heroes. But you might think just a little differently after you hear the story of his recent captivity in Syria for 81 days.

Speaking to The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey, Alpeyrie revealed new details of his capture and captivity, which serve to remind that some journalists, too, risk life and limb. Alpeyrie was at home in Paris with about 10 days to kill until his next scheduled assignment, he said, when he decided to make his third trip to Syria to cover the civil war.

He spent time with some rebel groups, he said, and about a week into his sojourn, he was about 20 miles outside of Damascus with his fixer and one other when they drove into a checkpoint. “It was a trap,” he said. He was dragged out of the car and blindfolded. Someone held a pistol to his head and pretended to shoot. It’s how they break your will, he said, adding: “You feel like you’re dreaming, like it’s not really happening. It’s very strange.”

'You feel like you’re dreaming, like it’s not really happening. It’s very strange.’

His kidnappers, he said, were a local militia group run by a warlord. For the first five weeks, he was blindfolded and handcuffed. Then, without explanation, he was moved to a different safe house, and the blindfold and handcuffs were taken off.

Relations with his kidnappers thawed a bit, and then ultimately softened to the surreal point that Alpeyrie, now 34, was instructed to teach the warlord how to swim. He’d revealed in conversation that he’d been a competitive swimmer when he was younger. There was an empty swimming pool in the house next door. His captors filled it up with freezing water and stripped him down to his underwear. Then up ambles his captors’ leader, wearing Hawaiian swim trunks. “Basically, I was holding him like a baby for an hour,” Alpeyrie remembered. “But by the end he could swim.”

Ultimately, he said it was a friend of the Assad regime who paid for his release—competing, interestingly, with another more radical group, which had in essence offered to buy him so that they could hold him and get the ransom money. They were outbid, and Alpeyrie was driven first to Damascus, and then in the trunk of another car to Beirut.

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