2 July-2014, Mick Krever/CNN: “I was marched up to him and I said to him – because I didn’t have anything else to say – ‘I thought we were friends.’ And he pulled his pistol and shot me.”
Thus is reporting in Syria.
With the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria threatening Baghdad and continuing its brutal fight in Syria, few people know the extremist groups of the region like Anthony Loyd, who has been on more than a dozen reporting trips to Syria since the war began.
On his latest such venture, in May, he was double-crossed by a man he considered his friend.
“This was a guy and his gang who I’ve known for over two years and stayed with on several occasions,” Loyd told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
Hakim, he said, was a midlevel commander in a small town – someone who had always treated him “with great decency and hospitality, as befitting a Muslim host in the Middle East.”
“I stopped by his house on the way out of Syria – I’d been working for a week in Aleppo – primarily to pay my respects to the birth of his last child, his daughter.”
“We stayed at his house – I was with Times (of London) photographer Jack Hill – and we had supper. We stayed overnight. The next morning, we left, having had breakfast, and said goodbye. And he set us up to be abducted.”
‘He sort of almost had to shut me up’
Loyd and his three companions – two Syrians and a Brit – were able to escape from their captors. Two of them, including Loyd, were recaptured.
“I was beaten and I was dragged into the street. I was tied up throughout this, my hands were bound. And there in the middle of the street was Hakim.”
“It was quite a crowd of Syrians who’d gathered. And he was denouncing me first as a CIA spy, then a spy for the regime. Then he was trying to say I was a volunteer to join ISIS.”
It was then, in front of the crowd of Syrian civilians, that Loyd said to Hakim, “I thought we were friends.”
“It was a moment he couldn’t really bear. There were a lot of people who were looking at him quite questioningly, like they weren’t completely believing what he said.”
“And then this, you know, beaten and bloodied Englishman, with his hands tied, gets marched up and says, ‘I thought we were friends.’ It was not the words of an ISIS volunteer or a CIA spy or whatever.”
“And he sort of almost had to shut me up. So he pulled his gun and he shot me twice in the ankle.”
In the moment, Loyd told Amanpour, the “event horizon” was so short that he had little time to think about what had happened.
On reflection, he said, war is “at best” little more than a “criminal event.”
“Its passage erodes people’s integrity. I think that’s what had happened.”
“I think also it’s very fair to say that as time has gone by, most Syrians or many Syrians regard Western journalists as embodying the cynicism of the West’s inaction in Syria. We come – the few of us who still go there – we report; we take photographs; we film their suffering. And nothing changes.”
A call to arm moderate rebels
Loyd may have been the victim of Syria’s rebels, but he nonetheless thinks that arming the moderate among them is the “least worst option” in defeating ISIS and changing the tide in Syria’s 3-year-old war, as he wrote in the Times of London on Tuesday.
“ISIS are an inevitable consequence. There’s no magic or mystery to their ascent. It’s like an algebraic equation. That amount of savagery, over that amount of time, in that place, left unchecked will inevitably produce something like ISIS.”
“Arming the opposition is not an ideal scenario, but I think it’s very important to block and contain the spread of ISIS.”
Recent history, he said, proves that defeating ISIS is eminently achievable.
“One of those recent examples is 2005 to 2009 in Iraq – the awakening movement. This was the Sunni tribal movement, backed by American money, and coordinated admittedly with American troops, which almost annihilated ISIS.”
“Now we have a similar template in Syria amongst the many Syrian rebel groups who turned on ISIS earlier this year and drove them out from large areas of the north.”
“And these are people who now it is time to help contain, to get alongside, to help contain ISIS – not all of them; some of those groups are completely unacceptable. But there are some, one can best and understand in general terms to be moderate.”
So what is next for Loyd, after he makes a full recovery?
“In principle, I’d go back – I would go back to Syria. In practice, there’s a few reasons maybe to leave Syria alone for a while for me.”
“But I’ll go back to my job as before. The worst I’ll end up with is to be lame in one leg, which is totally manageable, and I’m hoping for a full recovery.”