Matthew Schrier, an American photojournalist who was captured by Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, is suing a Qatari bank for allegedly funding the activity of his kidnappers.
Schrier, a New York-based independent photojournalist who traveled to Syria to cover the country’s civil war, was captured by Al-Nusra fighters in December 2012 on his way out of the country after 18 days in Aleppo.
In a federal lawsuit filed in Florida on Monday, January 13, Schrier claimed that Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) provided services to individuals involved in his capture and directly funded a charity that funneled money to terrorist groups in Syria. He is seeking damages of an unspecified amount.
Schrier alleges that Al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham relied on QIB to provide financial services to an international network of donors and charities that helps fund their operations. He also claims that the bank donated a substantial sum to Qatar Charity, a known Al-Qaeda funder and supporter of the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham.
The claim says the bank allowed the Qatari citizen Sa’d Al-Ka’bi to open an account in the name of his minor son and use it to funnel money from donors in Qatar and around the world to Al-Nusra. In 2015, Al-Ka’bi was targeted by the US State Department for facilitating financial services that support Al-Nusra and the Qatari branch of Al-Qaeda.
Qatar Islamic Bank has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Schrier’s court complaint lays out in grim detail the torture and abuse that he endured during his 221 days of captivity.
“The Front subjected Mr. Schrier to horrific conditions and extreme psychological and physical abuse,” the federal complaint says. “He was beaten and tortured on at least ten occasions, often by teams of terrorists, threatened multiple times with summary execution, and forced to observe and hear the torture of other prisoners.”
“[Schrier] was deprived of water and food, held in rooms that were freezing cold or boiling hot, without light or ventilation, and denied access to bathrooms for days at a time,” the complaint continues. “He contracted food poisoning and an internal infection, both untreated, and was infested by bed bugs. He often thought he was going to die in captivity, or wished for death, and described reaching ‘a place beyond depression.'”
The complaint adds that Schrier was later handed over to Al-Nusra’s ally group, Ahrar al-Sham. “The conditions were no better. Ahrar al-Sham interrogated Mr. Schrier on several occasions. They deprived him of water, crammed him into a too-small, poorly ventilated cell with other prisoners, and beat other prisoners in front of him,” the complaint says.
Schrier says that the kidnappers were adamant about proving that he worked for the American government. He describes two occasions in which Al-Nusra tortured him to extract a false confession that he was an undercover CIA agent.
Schrier says the kidnappers also stole his debit and credit cards and used them to buy items for thousands of dollars. At one point, he says, they threatened to force him to drive a truck loaded with explosives into one of their targets.
In March 2013, Schrier converted to Islam to gain favor with his captors, a move that partially improved his imprisonment conditions. In July of that year, he escaped his captors by squeezing out of a basement window. He became known as the first Westerner to escape from al-Qaeda.
In 2018, Schrier published a book about his kidnapping experience titled The Dawn Prayer (Or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison): A memoir.
Schrier is seeking damages under the Anti-Terrorism Act, pursuant to legislation from 2016 that allows American citizens injured by an act of international terrorism to press charges in a district court. They can sue to recover threefold the damages they sustain and the cost of the suit, including attorney’s fees.
“QIB knew or should have known the Nusra Front was assaulting Americans in Syria by torturing them,” the complaint says. “QIB acted willfully, wantonly, recklessly, or with deliberate disregard to the Nusra Front’s assault on Americans in Syria, including Mr. Schrier.”