Interview: Adil Haji Hassan, kidnapped and released for ransom by SNA in Sere Kaniye

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Adil Haji Hassan is an IDP who fled from Sere Kaniye during the Turkish invasion in October 2019. He was interviewed in Qamishlo on 8 May 2020.

Syrian National Army fighters and Turkish soldiers after the invasion of Afrin, 18 March 2018

My name is Adil Haji Hassan and I am from Sere Kaniye. I was born in 1975.

The reason I went back to Sere Kaniye is because I had a shop in the manufacturing district (sina3a). My friends were always saying, “it’s nothing, we can go to Sere Kaniye in order to [check on] our shops.”

I was convinced, and I said, “OK, I can come, and God willing nothing bad will happen.” With the result that I went back to Sere Kaniye. At first, for the subject of my shop, I went to the [Turkish] police center (Şurta Askerî) and after that I went to the [Turkish-controlled] local council (Meclisa Milhelli). I waited in the local council for a stamp for my file.

Afterward, two people came to me and said, “come with us, we want to ask you a couple of questions.” I was next to Nezla Sabir in the Sere Kaniye souq, and they brought me with them. They brought me with a car, to the Efafa school and a little bit further on in the car until we came to a house.

There were five or six men sitting in the house, wearing jihadi [‘çete’, lit. ‘flea’, meaning, ‘bandit, gangster’ – slang word used locally for ISIS members, terrorists, members of Turkish-backed factions, etc.] clothes. They were very tall, and they had long beards, like ISIS members. They were all sitting down, and they had packets of cigarettes and pistols with them.

They asked me a question, saying that a photo of the local council had been shared on Facebook, and they told me I had to tell them who shared that photo and how. I answered, saying: “I don’t know who shared it.”

After, they asked more questions, saying: “we heard that the person who shared this photo was a friend of your brother, [well-known Kurdistan 24 journalist] Heysem, and you have to tell us who it was that shared that photo, and thus exposes the situation in Sere Kaniye.”

I answered, saying that I don’t know this person. Once again they exerted pressure on me to answer but I didn’t know anything in answer to their questions.

Then, they asked me, “what do you have in Sere Kaniye? What brought you here?”

I told them, “I have a shop in the manufacturing district and a house as well, I have come for this reason, and if you don’t believe me, I have all the proofs here,” [ie. the deeds to his shop and home].

They said that I made weapons for the YPG [lit. ‘the friends’] out of metal in my workshop.

I said, “It’s not true. You can ask anybody, I have no connection to YPG, I don’t work for them. I just work in my own shop and afterward go home to my house. If it is true that I work for YPG and make weapons and so on, for them you can kill me right here on the spot! I accept that!”

But the jihadis didn’t believe me. They accused me of lying. They said, “if you want us to let you go, you have to find us seven YPG members from Sere Kaniye.”

I said, “I don’t even know my own neighbors well, how should I find YPG members for you? I have no connection to them.”

Five or six people started beating me, until I was unconscious. Then they flung me into a bathroom. I remained there for three or four days until I came to my senses. I saw they had brought me food, chilli pepper paste, and I could eat it.

Another man came to me and asked if I knew Heysem or Azad [Evdike, another prominent local filmmaker]. They asked me where their houses were, and I said I didn’t know. After, they beat me more, until I answered and said, “I know where Azad’s house is.”

We went to Azad’s house, and I showed it to them. But there was another battalion of jihadis in the house, and the house had been looted.

ANF | Serêkaniyê und seine Geschichte
Sere Kaniye

After this, an Iraqi jihadi came to me and asked that I show him where the bases of YPG were located, where they had hidden weapons or ammunition. I said to him, “I am a civilian guy. I have no information about these subjects. You should ask someone who knows about these subjects.”

Because I didn’t give them any information, they punished me by putting me in solitary confinement I spent a month in a cell alone, and I didn’t see anyone and no one saw me. They brought me food and water once every four or five days. The toilet was in the same cell as where I slept.

After a month had passed, another man came to me. His name was Abu Bera’a, from Homs. He is from the Mutasim Brigade. He wanted me to speak to my wife, and ask her to steal Heysem’s laptop and phone and hide them.

Night came, and three people came and brought me to their military point. My eyes were closed. They brought me to speak with my wife. We spoke on the phone, after a month and ten days [of no contact]. I told her, “you have to steal the phone and laptop of Heysem,” and she didn’t accept. She said, “I can’t.”

I told the jihadis, “my wife can’t do that.”

The jihadis said to me, “if you don’t have the laptop and phone of Heysem, then you have to give $15,000!”

I was forced to accept. The jihadis allowed me to speak on the phone with my brother, so that he could send the ransom to the jihadis, and set me free in this way. The jihadis told me to tell my brother [to have the money ready within] a week.

When I spoke with my brother, the jihadist were sitting with me, and so I couldn’t say anything else.

For the duration of that week, I was again placed in a cell in solitary confinement, without food or drink. In this duration of time, my brother reached an agreement with the jihadis to pay $10,000 in order that I would be released. They told my brother that he should send the money first, and after I would be released. But my brother did not accept this. He said, “first you have to release my brother, and after I will send the money.”

When I was in the prison, I sometimes felt like I wanted to kill myself, because of the betrayal and wicked things that were being done to me. But I didn’t kill myself, because I thought of my children and my old friends.

A man named Abdulrezaq Abdulhamid came to me in the prison. He is also a member of the Mutasim Division, as well as being a former neighbour of mine from the manufacturing district in Sere Kaniye. He said to me, “the jihadis want to use you in a transfer for one of their members, because a member of Mutasim is being held by YPG, and the jihadis think that your brother is an important leader among the YPG, that he is famous, and that they can release you in order to secure the release of their member who is being held by YPG.”

I said, “my brother isn’t someone like that which you are describing. He is just a normal person, who works in the media.”

He answered, “no, no. Your brother can make YPG release the jihadi who they are holding.”

I told him, “I have only one wish – that you inform my family that I am now being held by the Mutasim Division. So that they know this as well.”

When he left, I didn’t hear anything more. A third person came to me, and said, “there is no money, and we are going to exterminate you.”

There was another prisoner there. He was also from Sere Kaniye. They brought him into another cell and shot him several times in the head. They brought his body out. Whether he survived or not, we don’t know. In such a situation, one loses resilience, because one is scared and there is fear in one’s heart. Whether that [the execution] was just for show or not, we don’t know.

They came to me again and asked, “what’s up with you?” I said, “absolutely nothing.”

They brought me to the military base again and didn’t interrogate me at all, they just carried out the scenario which I described [the execution]. I believe this was just for show [ie. a mock execution]. After, they brought me back to my cell. A third person was there, from Turkey. He said that a relative of mine, a cousin, had received money from Germany. My relatives in Germany had borrowed money and sent it to Turkey. From Turkey, I don’t know how it arrived here.

He was wearing traditional clothes, a robe [fistan] and headscarf. It was clear this was a smart guy, and that he did this kind of thing often. I don’t know what his involvement was in this process. We [met] in a small room, and he was not any relative of mine. The money arrived from Germany via Turkey, and so I was released.

They received the money and I was brought to them. Until I was brought to the third person, I was still scared that they would kill me.

On the third day, they said “we are going to release you.” They brought me to Sere Kaniye, to someone named Sheikh Nejib, who was in the Agricultural Department. They said, “we want to send this guy out.”

He said, “what’s his crime?”

They said, “he hasn’t committed any crime, just that his brother is a journalist, and it’s about this, and the money.”

But this third person was cunning. He said, “do you want to exchange prisoners? We can do it like that.”

The people from Mutasim Division said, “No. We want the money.”

He wanted to know if they were lying or if they really wanted the money.

We were with Sheikh Nejib. he said, “This person has been arrested by some people. They have taken $10,500 from him without reason. He only wanted to come back and check on his home and shop. Now, I will secure him his rights.”

I said, “Give it up. I don’t need that, I just want to get to my brothers.”

He said, “No – I will secure you your rights.”

Sheikh Nejib spoke with his commanders in Turkey, he said “your members have arrested someone in Sere Kaniye, they have tortured him and taken his money. Now he’s here.”

I spoke to both of them, Sheikh Nejib and the other one. I couldn’t hear what was being said.

When he closed the telephone, he asked me, “is your brother a journalist?”

I said, “Yes, my brother is a journalist, but he’s been in Qamishlo for the past seven years, he didn’t see Sere Kaniye.”

He said, “OK.”

I said, “Just let me go!”

He saw that there was nothing [in terms of the accusations against Adil], and released me. They brought me by foot to a place near the border, and gave me ‘Free Syrian Army’ clothes to wear. We walked until we arrived to Assidya Sherqi (East Assidiya).

I gave them the clothes back. They said, “you don’t leave this road. You don’t go into the fields. You just keep walking straight.”

I kept on walking until I came close to where the friends of my brother were. They came in front of me. They asked me some questions. That evening, I slept in the village, in my uncle’s house. Afterward they sent me to Til Temir for a debriefing. They asked me questions about what happened and I told them everything. After I came to my home in Qamishlo.

I was held for two months and ten days. I don’t know if the reason is because of my brother. He works for Kurdistan 24. When they first arrested me it was because of my brother, they arrested me because he is a journalist. I said “he’s been working in the media in Qamishlo for the last seven years.”

They said, “no, he’s connected to the PKK.”

The things that they did to me are too hard to recall. At the end, they brought some other people from the local area to the prison and tortured them as well. I didn’t know these people. There was one whom I knew, because in 2012 I had a shop in Abu Rasin (Zirgan) and he had been a client of mine, but I had forgotten his face.

He was thrown into prison with me because he had two relatives who work in the Asayish (internal security forces) in Dirbesiye, and was arrested for this reason. He was beaten a lot, until he couldn’t take any more. They brought his wife to see him, and he threw himself at her feet and said, “give them money so that I can be freed from this situation.”

There was also an old man in the prison with us, he was 70 years old, they brought him toward the end.

There was another whom they arrested at the end. He had stayed in Sere Kaniye for two months after the end of the fighting in Sere Kaniye. Then he went to get his children from Heseke. When he came back and was filling up water, he saw a car [belonging to the SNA] pulling up. They asked him for his telephone.

They took his phone and brought it to someone else, who opened a [Whatsapp] voice message. The message asked if the Free Syrian Army had beautiful girls or not!

for this reason, he was arrested, and suffered a lot of torture. Ten people came and beat him with a plastic hose, until he was close to madness.

I wasn’t beaten with the hose, they just beat me with their fists and feets. Sometimes they tied my hands and feet behind me so I couldn’t move or resist. Then they beat me until I lost consciousness, and only then stopped.

There was one [SNA member] from Iraq, he was just an ordinary member, and not a commander. He was in charge of the first interrogation I faced. Every time I asked for him, they said he had gone to Turkey. I said, “let him come, what does he want from me? Let me be released from this torture. I will put up a surety or find a guarantor, whatever.” But they just said he had gone to Turkey.

After a month and ten days, they finally said that he had arrived from Turkey. I was in the cell the whole time, so whether this is true or not I don’t know.

When they arrested me, I was in the middle of the souq, near to the Sabir shop. I was arrested in broad daylight, all the civilians who were around there saw it happen. The one who arrested me was from Sere Kaniye. His name is Abu Omar Hosho, he was working with Jabhat al-Nusra since 2012 or before. He left with them to Turkey [when YPG took the city from al-Nusra], and then returned at the start of the most recent war.

He seized me and turned me over to [the SNA]. That Abu Omar Hosho arrested a lot of people from Sere Kaniye and brought them to [the SNA], not just me. Another was Abir Idwani. The others they arrested [that he saw in his prison] were Arabs, not Kurds. Those who I described to you who were arrested, the old man and the guy who had the voicenote on his telephone, were also arrested by this Abu Omar. Whichever people were arrested from Sere Kaniye, he was involved. His name is Ahmed but they call him Abu Omar. He will get his comeuppance in the end, but from who, God only knows.

There were four people from Sere Kaniye who were arrested, money was taken from them and they were released. They were also with the Mutasim Division, who control the whole manufacturing district. I was with Mutasim until I was released and they didn’t allow anyone else to see me.

Many times, I could tell that they were fighting among themselves. I always felt that they were going to come and take out their anger on me. When they were fighting among themselves, we got to know about it. They fight with one another for the spoils of war [ghanima]. At these times we were in danger and we didn’t sleep, we always thought it was going to come back to hurt us. Whenever they were angry, they came and took their anger out on us.

For the Kurdish question, it was very difficult. If you said a Kurdish name to them, it was like they didn’t understand what you were saying. They said that the Kurds were traitors, they said “how many martyrs did we lose in Kobane [ie. in fighting between YPG and ISIS] only to be betrayed?” Their commander said this to me.

I didn’t have any money with me, whatever we had we left behind when we fled Sere Kaniye, we incurred debts borrowing money via relatives in Germany. My brother is in Turkey and I have some friends and relatives in Ankara, but I don’t know via whom the money was transferred. All I know is that the money was given and I was released, either via Turkey or via Germany. What is important is that I was released, because I had washed my hands of life. My life was over, I was just waiting for the end.

I suffered chest pains for two months because of the beatings I had received, but now it’s much improved. The real suffering was due to [the lack of] food and water, they killed us with this, just giving us a little piece of bread and some chickpeas or beans every three or four days. Not enough to kill us, but not enough to live either. We were scared that if we told them we were thirsty, they would beat us. If I had said I was hungry, they would have beaten me.

The prison I was in at the end was in a private home. On Ahmed Kan Street in Tahe Ashiq, near to the homes of Bedir, Loqman Shakir and Abu Miro, close to the supermarket of Tahe Ashiq.

When I was released, those who I saw from Sere Kaniye I didn’t recognise. They were mostly Arabs, not Kurds. I didn’t believe that they were going to let me free, because they didn’t look human, with their long hair and beards.

Once they put me in a room which was full of stolen things, and I found a razor and trimmed my beard. That day, I saw no mercy from their beatings, because they were asking me why I’d cut my beard and beating me. They put me into a corner and kicked me, rather than the other kind of beating where they tied up my hands.

After we had entered into negotiations and the subject of money had been opened, they stopped beating me so much. They spoke to me in an unpleasant way and swore at me, but they didn’t hit me any more.

In the place where I was being held there were four people, one from the Traffic Police [of the AANES] who had given up on his work. He was from Mirekiza Herib. The others were from the Sere Kaniye countryside. There was also the guy from Sere Kaniye who received the Whatsapp voice message about the Free Syrian Army. He was tortured a lot. They said he was an agent, who had gone to receive his wages in Heseke in return for giving away information, saying, “and you say the Free Syrian Army’s girls are beautiful! Have you no honour?” He suffered terribly. They broke his nose.

There was one who beat me on the first day and threw me into the bathroom. He wasn’t anyone high-ranking. I was dizzy, and my head was swollen.

Many of our young men say, “let’s go back to Sere Kaniye.” My friend said, “Let’s go, I have 70-80,000,000 SYP in Sere Kaniye.” His name is Hamid, or Haj Mehmud.

I told him, “for money you will fall into their clutches? Afterward, everything will be darkened before your eyes. There’s nothing left there.” He listened to me, and he didn’t go.

Another friend said that he was going to go to Sere Kaniye, and I told him, “What happened to me will happen to you as well. For as long as you live, forget going back to Sere Kaniye. Forget it all, God knows, as long as those jihadis remain there it’s impossible to go back and live there.”

Those people who have remained there are also in fear.

[The SNA] give themselves names like ‘Abu such-and-such’, they don’t use their real names. I know Ahmed Abu Omar, he is Ahmed Hosho, the one who came to discuss with me when I was in prison.

I said to myself, “I recognize that beard,” and introduced myself. He said, “Yes, [it’s me].” He is Ahmed Abu Omar, Hosho Idwani, and his house is in Abre.

Then there is Abed al-Rezaq Abu Hamid, I know him well as he was my neighbour in the manufacturing district. He is also part of Mutasim Division. Another from Sere Kaniye was Abu Nasir, he is also part of Mutasim. Mutasim’s overall commander is Abu Al-Berai. The one who tortured me was Abu Heyder. He brought us into the yard and beat us until we could take no more. Then there was another named Berhum who brought us our food. He was responsible for our room, and didn’t allow us to see one another.

Their names were like this, they didn’t say their real names.

One time, Abu al-Berai showed me a Youtube clip, he said, “look, they made this interview with me,” and it was true, I saw it was him in the video. Now, I am searching and asking people to find these people again, who did these things to me, but I couldn’t find [videos/photos/identities of the SNA members] until now.

I know Abu Omar well, anyone from our region knows him. He and my brother used to work together as laborers. I didn’t know the others, but the other prisoners told me that they are from Homs. I don’t know, but one of the others who was in the prison said this. His home was near to the streets which they had taken, and he was imprisoned with me for 15 days at the end. he was still there when I left. he told me they were from Homs.

Abu Nasir is also from Sere Kaniye, as well as Amar Hosho, who first arrested me.

As I saw, many people were arrested just for money, they took money from them and let them go them. All they cared about was money.

Our street in the manufacturing district was completely ransacked, everyone was gone. Everyone built up their shops there, investing 6 or 7 million SYP, and they lost everything, both their investment and their possessions. Those who have fled include Abu Rodi, Abu Hido, Abu Qeys, and Abdo.

Baqi Sheikh Bashir was arrested, he is a relative of mine. He paid 2 to 3,000,000SYP to be released.

They don’t distinguish between old and young, there was that one old man aged around 70 who could only walk with difficulty and could barely eat. They beat him until his hands were all grazed.

When they stopped giving us food, we were three people, including myself and a young man named Mehmud, plus also the old man. We stored away our bread and hid our water when they stopped giving us water, so we could survive.

When they gave us a little water, we would hold it in our mouths for as long as possible to make our mouths moist. They would give us a bottle of water between us to last two to three days.

In the final days before I left they brought food to me. For those three days only they brought me nice food and drink, and sometimes let us out and gave us tea to drink. When we saw bread, we were filled with longing, it was all we wanted. We were so hungry that when we saw a grain of bulgur on the ground we picked it up and put it in our mouths, because they totally stopped giving us food.