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Kidnapped By IS In Afghanistan, Victim Recounts Ordeal

Grab from a video that shows militants loyal to the Islamic State (IS) blowing up bound and blindfolded Afghan prisoners with explosives.

It was an ordinary day for a Pakistani pharmaceutical executive who often frequented the Afghan capital Kabul to oversee his company's business in the neighboring country.

Abdul Qayum preferred to make the trip by road through the Khyber Pass. The journey meant a full day's drive between his hometown of Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan, and Kabul. He usually made a stopover in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

Before embarking on his last journey on November 27, Qayum had no idea that it would prove to be one of the most fateful days of his life.

Soon after crossing into Afghanistan around noon, a van began to follow his car. A few kilometers into the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, the van blocked his car after hastily overtaking it on a deserted stretch of the hilly road.

"Gunmen quickly surrounded our car and ordered me to move into another vehicle, which was already waiting there. They quickly blindfolded me, tied my hands behind my back and emptied my pockets and began driving on dirt tracks away from the highway," the 49-year-old said, recalling the beginning of his ordeal.

Qayum says his kidnappers refused to answer when he pleaded with them and repeatedly asked them why was he being kidnapped.

"After moving me, bound and blindfolded, from one place to another, they finally told me in the night that they had kidnapped me by mistake," he said. "Different people repeatedly asked me the same sets of questions, perhaps to establish that I wasn't lying."

On the second day of his imprisonment, Qayum ended up in a large mud compound which appeared to serve as the main base and prison for the masked militants.

Abdul Qayum is happy to be reunited with his family.
Abdul Qayum is happy to be reunited with his family.

"Soon most of their interrogations sessions changed into talk about how much money I can pay to secure my release," he said. "They always emphasized that they were the mujahedin, engaged in a holy war, and that other Muslims were responsible for looking after them. They frequently recited Koranic verses to underscore their point."

For those first few days, Qayum had little idea who his captors were. The militants eventually told him they were members of Daesh, an Arabic-language acronym for the ultra-radical Islamic State (IS) militants who control large parts of Syria and Iraq. Since summer, their affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan have held tenuous control over parts of several districts in Nangarhar. He is the first IS kidnapping victim to recount this ordeal.

Unknown to Qayum, the IS militants were using his mobile telephones to contact his kin. "They made outrageous demands, sometime asking for as much as $600,000 in ransom," he says.

Qayum says the makeshift IS prison was a living hell. He soon discovered that scabies, an itchy and highly contagious skin disease, was endemic. "They didn't care about our suffering. The mattresses were infested with rats, which used to bite us whenever we tried to sleep."

His suffering was magnified because he had kidney surgery weeks before the kidnapping. He needed rest and a proper diet to recover, but in IS captivity a typical meal consisted of leftover food from the fighters.

While Qayum languished in the makeshift prison, his family also suffered. For the first few days of his captivity his two wives and five children had no idea what had happened to him.

Hina Qayum, his second wife, says panic struck her on November 27 when Qayum failed to call. He always called his family after reaching Kabul.

"Once we knew that militants had kidnapped him we were like the walking dead. One day I was nearly run over by cars because I was so preoccupied with thinking about him that I forgot to pay attention while walking across a busy road," she said. "Those were very difficult and dark times."

His son Usman Qayum, a university student, says the news of his father's kidnapping was equal to losing a loved one. "We have a saying here -- 'mourning without a corpse' -- it was like that," he said. "If your father disappears suddenly, it is like dying every day."

He said family friends and relatives told him to not talk about his father's kidnapping, because it might complicate the delicate bargaining process they were engaged in with IS to secure his release.

Nearly a month after the kidnapping, Qayum's relatives finally scraped together more than $30,000 to secure his release.

He's one of the lucky ones. An IS propaganda video shows bound and blindfolded Afghan prisoners being blown up with explosives. It attracted widespread condemnation in Afghanistan after its release in August. Even the Taliban described the act as "horrific" and "un-Islamic".

In the past decade, kidnapping-for-ransom has emerged as one of the favorite means of generating revenue for various Islamist extremist factions operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan.