Antonio Pampliega (Madrid, 1982) went to Baghdad in 2008 to earn a living as a journalist in war zones. Do not forget the date of July 13, 2015, when he was kidnapped by the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Syria along with two other journalists. The only thing that aspired at that time was "a quick death". He was released on May 7, 2016.
When did you go to a conflict zone for the first time?
In 2008, when I was 25 years old, I went to Baghdad (Iraq) with one hand in front and another in the back, an unfortunate Englishman without knowing anything about the war I was getting into.
What drove him to act like that?
I do not know, ego, ambition, youthful mistakes ... I wanted to become the new Pérez-Reverte because I was struck by that type of journalism that I was attracted to by the Iranian photographer Reza Deghati as a result of a lecture he gave in my faculty about the Afghanistan of the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation. I started the race thinking about focusing on sports journalism, and before going to Iraq I had been working as a fellow in the newspaper As.
What are your references in the profession?
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Gervasio Sánchez and Mercedes Gallego.
And what did he go to Baghdad?
To make a report about the GEO (Special Operations Group of the state security forces) that guarded the Embassy of Spain in Baghdad, which was located outside the security zone of the Iraqi capital. I spent two weeks living with them to do the report.
Did you manage to publish it?
Yes, in the missing Time.
How much did they pay him?
No more than 300 or 400 euros. I lost pasta. In fact, I have always lost money until in March 2012 I entered for the second time in a Syria armored by the regime of Bashar al Assad. They had to enter the country illegally through Turkey or Lebanon. And agencies like France or Associated Press were interested in buying videos, photos and texts of what was happening there. I entered Syria for the first time in December 2011.
And from then on?
I ate the war in entire Syria. I went about twice a year. I have seen all kinds of barbarities in that conflict, it is the war in which I lost my innocence.
Tell me an anecdote or experience that has been recorded in your memory.
It happened in August 2012. He was with a rebel unit on the border with Lebanon that had just captured a traitor who was passing information to the Al Assad regime. We were hearing two hours how they beat and tortured him. Within an hour and a half of beginning the interrogation, he began to pray. The boss who was carrying out the tortures invited us to dinner on one of his breaks. His knuckles were peeled and bloodied from the blows he had dealt the prisoner. At one point in the dinner he asked us what we would do with the traitor. We replied that the normal thing, once proven guilty, would be to put him in jail. He told us that in the new Syria there would be prisons, but in the present they did not have. The next morning, when we left, we saw him for the last time handcuffed to a radiator with his face shattered with blows. I have no doubt that this person is dead today, buried in some common grave in that country. In Syria I have seen everything, children destroyed by bombs, devastated cities ...
In that country he was kidnapped by Al Qaeda and spent 299 days in his power, he will never forget the day it happened.
No, it was July 13, 2015. I can not tell you the exact time because the clock had stopped the day before, when I arrived in the country. But by the position of the sun it must have been two or three in the afternoon.
He was captured along with Spanish journalists, Ángel Sastre and José Manuel López, who gave them to the terrorist group?
I have no doubt that the one who sold us was the translator.
What was the hardest moment of that long kidnapping?
When they separated me from my colleagues. Being alone was the worst of the kidnapping.
Why were they separated?
I do not know. They arrived suddenly, at night, when we were sleeping. They came in with a flashlight and I heard how they asked a partner if it was Antonio. Then I told them that Antonio was me and they took me, they put handcuffs and a hood on me and put me in a car. The journey to another house, where I was locked in a flat that we accessed after climbing several flights of stairs, was interminable.
What was he thinking during the trip?
I was scared. I thought that when they took off my hood I would find the typical set that we have seen in their videos showing how they cut one of their prisoners' throats.
Surely he had thought during his abduction the way he would prefer to be murdered.
Yes. And of course I burned alive like the Syrian pilot they kept in a cage no. They could kill me by attaching explosives to my body, drowning me, cutting off my head ... I do not know. I only aspired to be a quick death.
I'm sure he still has nightmares of that dreadful experience ...
Yes I relived the nightmare a lot when the book in which I told the kidnapping (In the darkness, Ed. Peninsula), because I gave like ninety or one hundred interviews and in all spoke about the same thing.
Nor will he ever forget the date of his release.
No, it was on May 7, 2016, which I think it was Saturday because I returned to Spain on a Sunday.
Do you think he was benefited by being kidnapped by Al Qaeda and not by the Islamic State?
Of course. If it had been the Daesh, I would not be talking to you now.
And why have they been radicalized in that way?
The problem is that they have not adapted or we have not allowed them to adapt. They live in ghettos. In Turkey, where we were staying in hotels of rackets waiting for an opportunity to move to Syria, we had as room neighbors young French and British who had gone to fight for the Islamic State in the neighboring country.
What do you think about the treatment that Europe is giving to refugees?
Which is shameful because they are fleeing from hell, that I can attest to. The same thing happened to us and they did not receive us that way. And while we act like this, weapons are still being sold to Saudi Arabia that are used in Yemen. And then Margarita Robles and Borrell leave saying that they are precision weapons that do not cause collateral damage!