Syria hostage Domenico Quirico 'treated like animal'
An Italian war correspondent held captive by multiple armed groups in Syria has spoken of how he was treated "like an animal".
Domenico Quirico was freed on Sunday, after being held hostage for five months along with Belgian teacher Pierre Piccinin da Prata.
In the pages of his newspaper, La Stampa, the 62-year-old described being subjected to two mock executions.
He said his captors were "mixed-up" men consumed by the pursuit of money.
Mr Quirico entered Syria from Lebanon on 6 April. He disappeared four days later near the city of Qusair - probably betrayed, Mr Quirico said, by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Over following months he and Mr da Prata were passed from one armed group to another.
The captives endured long, dangerous journeys that took them halfway across Syria as the battle frontlines shifted and they were forced to decamp.
He finally arrived home in early on Monday morning, after what Italian authorities said were extensive efforts by the Italian foreign ministry and other state agencies.
"Our captors were from a group that professed itself to be Islamist but that in reality is made up of mixed-up young men who have joined the revolution because the revolution now belongs to these groups that are midway between banditry and fanaticism," he said.
"They follow whoever promises them a future, gives them weapons, gives them money to buy cell phones, computers, clothes."
Such groups, he said, were trusted by the West but were in truth profiting from the revolution to "take over territory, hold the population to ransom, kidnap people and fill their pockets".
Mr Quirico said he and his fellow captive were kept "like animals, locked in small rooms with windows closed despite the great heat, thrown on straw mattresses, giving us the scraps from their meals to eat".
He said his guards seemed to take no interest in anything other money and weapons - spending entire days lounging on mattresses, smoking and watching old black-and-white Egyptian movies or American wrestling shows on television.
He said he felt these men took satisfaction from seeing what they would regard as two rich Westerners reduced to the status of beggars.
'Country of evil'
Once, Mr Quirico said he had borrowed a mobile phone from a wounded rebel fighter to call home. "It was the only gesture of pity I received in 152 days of captivity," he said.
"Even children and old people tried to hurt us. Maybe I am putting this in overly ethical terms but in Syria I really found a country of evil," he said.
Paradoxically, he said, "the only ones who treated us with humanity were those closest to al-Qaeda", because they had an attitude towards prisoners - a code of conduct - that other captors lacked.
Twice, Mr Quirico said, he was subjected to mock executions, including one in which a rebel held a loaded gun to his head.
He writes of his fear in a moment when his "executioner" stepped very close to him: "I could hear him breathing. I knew that he liked to have a man's life in his hands... that he liked making me afraid."
Mr Quirico does not write of exactly why he was finally released.
He talks of being forced to make a walk in the night and fearing that he was going to be shot in the back - but then hearing an Italian voice in the darkness, and realising that he was being freed.