‘The sorrow of being confined cannot be expressed in words’

The harrowing story of two Bangladeshis’ 18-day ordeal as captives of Islamic State in Libya 

Overjoyed to have him at home, Anowar Hossain’s children do not fully comprehend the grave peril their father was in until just a few days ago. His son’s smile and daughter’s playfulness provide stark contrast to the tale he tells of 18 days spent as a captive of Islamic State in LIbya
Overjoyed to have him at home, Anowar Hossain’s children do not fully comprehend the grave peril their father was in until just a few days ago. His son’s smile and daughter’s playfulness provide stark contrast to the tale he tells of 18 days spent as a captive of Islamic State in LIbya

Free at last after eighteen days in Islamic State (IS) captivity in Libya, the two Bangladeshi men who returned home on Monday recount their time in uncertain conditions under the power of the world’s most feared political movement.

On March 6, after Friday prayers, Anowar Hossain of Noakhali district and Helal Uddin of Jamalpur district were in their room at the camp of Value Added Oilfield Services (VAOS), an Austrian company running a project at al-Ghani oil field in Zalla.

The town of Zalla, 750 kilometres south-east of Tripoli, is home to an old Berber castle and the al-Ghani oil-field.

“Suddenly, the sound of bombing rang out near our camp around 2pm. Before we could figure out what was going on, we found ourselves confined by armed men wearing sunglasses.

“There were 11 of us: two Austrians, four Filipinos, a Ghanaian, a Tunisian, a Libyan and the two of us,” Anowar said.

“Amid the chaos, we did not realise that our camp had been taken over by militants belonging to the Libyan branch of IS.

“Ten minutes later, when we were forced to board a VAOS staff car seized by our captors, I saw military vehicles flying black flags with Arabic lettering on them.

“Then one of them told us they belonged to al-Daulat al-Islamiyyah, which is Arabic for ‘Islamic State,’” Anowar recalled.

Anowar, a diploma engineer who left Bangladesh five years ago, and Helal, who left six years ago, yesterday told the Dhaka Tribune about their time as IS prisoners.

Anowar said the camp where they lived and the oil-field where they worked were under the control of the Libyan army.

The IS militants appeared to be a full-fledged military force, Anowar said. He says they might have attacked the Libyan military when they captured the oil-field.

The UK’s Independent newspaper reported on March 8 that IS had executed 11 guards during their operation to take over the oil-field.

Helal said the IS militants began interrogating the captives to determine who were Muslims and who were not.

The two Bangladeshis and the Ghanaian were separated from the others after the IS men were satisfied that they were Sunni Muslims.

The Libyan and Tunisian, being both Muslim and Arab, were freed by the militants, Anowar said.

He said most of the IS militants appeared to be Arabs. They all seemed to be speaking to each other in Arabic.

Their first night in captivity was spent at another oil-field captured by the militants.

During their 18 days as IS hostages, they were moved to no fewer than eight different places, including a school house and an old government building in the desert that served as a base for 70 or 80 IS members.

Some nights were spent under the open sky with just a blanket provided by their captors, the two Bangladeshis said.

“Most of our time was spent in confinement in the old government building. Our room was appointed with some mosaic tiling and had a window,” Helal said.

They lived on jummita, a food made of starch and olive oil, and khubz, the flat-bread common throughout the region. They were given food once or twice a day.

Anowar and Helal said the militants were in control of a 100 to 200 mile area. They were heavily armed and organised into groups like the military.

“Wherever we were taken, we saw new militants,” they said.

“On the fifth day, an IS militant came to our room to give us a lesson about Islam.

“But when he saw us regularly saying our prayers and reading the Quran, something the other militants had also reported about us, he did not try teaching us Islam again,” Anowar said.

“On the ninth or tenth day, one of the militants told us not to worry. He said we would be freed because we are Muslim.

“Two or three militants occasionally came into our cell and said their prayers with us,” Anowar said.

Anowar and Helal told the Dhaka Tribune they were never tortured or threatened by the IS militants.

“We slept most of the time. Our only problem was the scarcity of food and water,” Anowar said.

“For us, they had two standing instructions: Do not try to flee and do not shout. Either offence, the guards said, would get us killed,” Anowar recalls.

Anowar said he observed, while out to use the latrine, that the militants had kept them confined in a camp in the desert that included some old, brick, single-storey buildings.

While at camp, the militants did not wear masks, he said.

“It would not be possible to flee from the camp. The vast desert and the armed surveillance of the militants made it impossible to run. From my experience in Libya for the last five years, I know such camps are at least 500 kilometres away from any city,” he said.

Anowar and Helal said they saw their non-Muslim VAOS colleagues just twice during their captivity. They are not sure what became of them.

“During our fourth move to a new holding site, we saw them in another pick-up van. After that we never saw them again,” Helal said. He added: “Please do not write anything that might cause our non-Muslim colleagues harm.”

In the eighteen days they were under the power of the IS, they say they never heard the sound of screaming or shouting.

“On the evening of March 23, they shifted us to our last destination: A madrasa in Sirte city. They told us in broken English to eat and rest there,” Anowar said.

“We three Muslims – two Bangladeshis and a Ghanaian – travelled in their car across the desert for seven or eight hours to get to the madrasa,” he said.

“After that, there were no longer any militants guarding us.

“We managed to phone family members and our recruiting company, using the madrasa students’ phones,” Anwar said.

“The next day a driver from VAOS rescued us from the Sirte madrasa. He gave us fresh clothes. We had not changed our clothes in 18 days,” he said.

VAOS paid them 200 Libyan dinars and their due salaries.

“We were shifted to hospital and then we were met by officials from the Bangladesh embassy in Libya,” he added.

Anowar and Helal say they pray their non-Muslims colleagues are freed by IS.

“The sorrow of being confined, of living without word from family, cannot be expressed in words.

“Now we just want to spend time with our families,” Anowar told the Dhaka Tribune.

This Story published in Dhaka Tribune…Link:http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2015/apr/08/sorrow-being-confined-cannot-be-expressed-words

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