A Long Island native reportedly escaped last month from Syrian rebels who kidnapped him seven months ago while he was on assignment as a freelance photojournalist covering the three-year-old civil war.
Matthew Schrier, a Syosset native and Hofstra University graduate who lived in Deer Park before moving to Los Angeles last year, was abducted in February as he tried to leave war-torn Aleppo, The New York Times reported Friday.
“I was just pacing back and forth waiting for my turn,” the 35-year-old lensman told the newspaper of listening to other prisoners being beaten by members of the Al-Qaeda-aligned group Nusra Front that held him in several prisons.
The group is one of several opposed President Bashar al-Assad in fighting that has claimed more than 100,000 lives—including estimates of more than 1,000 suspected of being killed this month with chemical warfare in the nation’s capital, Damascus.
Schrier is the second LI journalist to have been caught in the Syrian cross fire. Marie Colvin, an East Norwich native and leading war correspondent for The Sunday Times in London, was killed while covering the military’s shelling of civilians in Homs last year.
In an interview with The Albany Times Union last fall, Schrier said he had spent $6,000 on a 10-day trip to the region but was disappointed in American new outlets’ lack of interest in the images he captured of the rebels and refugees.
“I don’t have a death wish,” he told that newspaper, whose editors he said were the only ones to reply to his query. “It was my job to show people what’s going on over there.”
Schrier had quit his job in the health care industry before heading to Syria, the first war zone he had photographed. An activist he met on his first trip agreed to take him to Aleppo when he returned, he told the Times.
He said his captors beat the bottom of his feet with a metal cable the first time he was caught trying to escape, used his bank account information to go shopping online and emailed his family pretending to be him so they wouldn’t report him missing. They suspected he was an undercover CIA agent.
“In your country you have a saying: You are innocent until proven guilty,” one of his captors told him of the secret Islamic trial he faced, according to the Times. “Here we have the opposite. You are guilty until proven innocent. We do not know who you are.”
Schrier climbed out of a broken prison window July 29 to make his escape, but his American cellmate stayed behind. They were two of more than 15 Westerners that the Times reports were abducted or disappeared in Syria this year, most of whom were journalists.