ISIS captives forced to sing ‘Hotel Oussama’: French hostage
French journalist Nicolas Henin during a press conference in September 2014 in Paris – Copyright AFP OZAN KOSE
A French journalist detained by the Islamic State in Syria testified on Wednesday that he and other hostages were forced by their captors to sing a depraved parody of the Eagles song “Hotel California” titled “Hotel Osama.”
“It was terrifying for us, a joke for them,” Nicolas Henin said during the trial of El Shafee Elsheikh, a 33-year-old former British national.
Elsheikh is accused of having participated in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Henin is one of several former hostages who testified in the trial in federal court of the alleged member of the notorious ISIS kidnapping and murder cell known as the “Beatles”.
Henin said that the words of “Hotel Osama” included the original lyrics of “Hotel California” on the recording but never leaving, but with a twist.
“If you try, you will die Mr. Bigley’s way,” the lyrics read, a reference to British engineer Kenneth Bigley, who was beheaded in 2004 by Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, leader of the al-Qaeda terror network. in Iraq.
Henin said he was captured in June 2013 during his fifth reporting trip to Syria.
He was held alone for two days in a bathroom but managed to escape by breaking window bars with a broom.
After running all night, he arrived at dawn in a village and spoke to two men in pajamas.
“Unfortunately they were IS fighters,” he said.
Returned to captivity, he was beaten and taken outside and “suspended in the air for a few hours” with his hands and feet chained.
– ‘They were terrified’ –
Henin was then placed with other hostages, including Frenchman Pierre Torres and Danish photographer Daniel Rye Ottenson.
British aid worker David Haines and Italian aid worker Federico Motka arrived later.
After being taken to another prison, three guards arrived one day speaking in British accents.
Haines and Motka told the other hostages they were the “Beatles”, Henin said, using the nickname given to jihadist jailers because of their British accents.
“They were terrified,” he said of Haines and Motka. “Trembling.”
They were later joined by Sotloff, Foley, John Cantlie, a British journalist captured with Foley, Toni Neukirch, a German citizen, and five Doctors Without Borders (MSF) workers.
He said the Beatles come once or twice a week, “sometimes for a round of hits”.
After his release in April 2014, Henin provided authorities with information that was used in a rescue attempt.
“I spent a lot of time with the agencies, describing the location, giving details to whoever was in charge of planning the raid,” Henin said.
The US-led rescue mission was launched on July 4, 2014, but the hostages had been taken elsewhere days earlier.
“They had been moved before the operation,” said Robert Daniel Story, an FBI special agent who helped prepare for the raid and took the witness stand after Henin.
“We were very disappointed,” Story said.
The “Beatles” held at least 27 foreigners hostage in Syria between 2012 and 2015.
A number of European journalists and aid workers were released after ransoms were paid, but the Americans – Foley, Sotloff and Kassig – were killed and videos of their killings released by IS for propaganda purposes.
Mueller was reportedly handed over to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who allegedly raped her several times before killing her.
Elsheikh and another former British national, Alexanda Amon Kotey, were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria.
They were turned over to US forces in Iraq and transported to Virginia in 2020 to face charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to assassinate US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021 and faces life in prison.
‘Beatles’ executioner Mohamed Emwazi was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015, while the cell’s fourth member, Aine Davis, is imprisoned in Turkey after being convicted of terrorism.
Elsheikh has denied the charges and his lawyers say his arrest is a case of mistaken identity.