By Mick Krever, CNN
The first five weeks of photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie’s captivity among Syrian rebels were the most difficult.
“They would force me to wrestle with them, to show me how tough they were, and they snapped my ribs on the right so I couldn’t breathe for a while,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
It was “just amusement” to them, he said.
“I was handcuffed for about five weeks, to a bed mostly; and the first three weeks, I was blindfolded.”
At least 29 journalists were killed in Syria last year, and some 60 others abducted.
Alpeyrie was kidnapped by an armed rebel group at a checkpoint near Damascus last April. He would be held for 81 days.
He told Amanpour he was trying to “up my game” by getting closer to the Syrian capital before he was captured.
The first group that held him, he said, were “basically moderates – Muslims who are freedom fighters fighting against the government.”
“They are also local people, and they also kidnap for a living. That’s very common in the region.”
They lied to him constantly, he said.
“”They always [told] me I couldn’t get out because Hezbollah was around, and I was surrounded – which was true actually but that wasn’t the reason why they were holding me.”
Some of the rebels who held him, he said, certainly seemed to have jihadist inclinations.
“They had heavy beards and they were shaved on top, so that’s a sign always. But I would say compared to other Iraqi extremist groups, al Qaeda, they’re not as hardcore in terms of their religious belief.”
In the end, he said, money was what mattered to them.
So how did he get out?
“From what I can tell it’s somebody close to the regime, the Assad regime, who paid my ransom for his own benefits – mostly to get out of a blacklist written by the EU.”
In other words, a businessman may have gotten Alpeyrie out of captivity as a way to curry favor with European governments.
“He got me out. I was hidden in a mosque in his area for about 24 hours, then smuggled back in the trunk of a car to Lebanon. In Beirut I escaped to the French embassy.”