A Danish photographer who endured months of torture at the hands of Islamic State extremists says the terrorist killer known as “Jihadi John” forced him to stand for days and dance the Tango at a prison in Syria.
Daniel Rye Ottosen, 26– the last ISIS hostage to be released alive last June– revealed details about his experience in captivity in an interview Sunday with Denmark radio network DR.
The identity of “Jihadi John”– the British terrorist infamous for beheading at least 4 hostages—became public last spring. Mohammed Emwazi, 26, was born in Kuwait, raised in London, and graduated from Westminster University before going to Syria in 2013 to fight with ISIS.
He has become the face of several gruesome propaganda videos— wearing a mask and all black, and wielding a knife before decapitating high profile hostages captured by ISIS terrorists.
Ottosen– a freelance photographer from Odense, Denmark —says after being captured, Emwazi forced him into a degrading dance that ended in a brutal beating, Britain’s Telegraph reported Monday.
“‘Do you want to dance?'” he remembers Emwazi asking. “Then he took me up, and we were supposed to dance the Tango together, John and I.”
Days of beatings and torture taught Ottosen and his fellow hostages not to engage with their captors. “At that point, I just looked down at the ground the whole time because I did not want to look at them – if you looked them in the eye you would just get beaten even more.”
“So I had my head down and my arms up and he led me around the prison and then suddenly it just changed and he threw me down and kicked and hit me,” Ottosen said.
“Then they ended by threatening to cut my nose off with side-cutting pliers and such things,” Ottosen added.
Ottosen said that after his arrest he was repeatedly tortured for about two weeks in a cell in Aleppo, as the rebels tried to force him to confess to being a CIA spy.
Emwazi first appeared in an ISIS video in 2014, when he beheaded American freelance journalist James Foley. He later appeared in videos showing the beheadings of American journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
“They were very good at torturing. They were well aware of the where the limits lay,” Ottosen said. The most brutal torture involved being forced to stand for days on end.
“One of the tricks they used with me was to hang me up from the ceiling with my arms over my head and my hands handcuffed, hanging from a chain. I could stand with both of my feet on the ground but they left me there for an entire day,”Ottosen recalled.
The unending torture was so agonizing that when the extremists threatened to extend it for another three days, Ottosen broke down and tried unsuccessfully to take his own life to escape.
“I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of this world anymore,” he told DR. “So I took that chain around my neck and actually secured it with my little finger so that it couldn’t just loosen and then I hopped and tried to take my own life.”
Later, he was held in a children’s hospital with Foley. The two would do exercises in their cells to build strength and morale. “James was not so strong with his motor skills so I taught him to stand on one leg with closed eyes,” he remembers.
“We did some partner exercises where you lean against each other and then stand up. Some very basic things, but something that is difficult when you have no energy and when one’s muscles have basically disappeared.”
Ottosen was released in June last year after his family paid a 1.5 million pounds or $3.2 million to ISIS. Much of the ransom came from a Facebook fundraising campaign mounted by Ottomen’s sister, Anita Rye Ottosen.
The payment has been controversial, as Emwazi in the following months went on to behead Ottoman’s fellow captives. Both the American and British governments forbade the hostages’ families from giving in to ISIS demands.
Ottosen is still working through the psychological and physical trauma he experienced in the clutches of ISIS. He has only recently begun to work again as a photographer, after more than a year of healing. He has recounted his ordeal in a new book being released in Denmark Tuesday.