Al Qaeda & ISIS Hostages
Artifacts of a Kidnapping:
The Things They Carried Home
Eleven years after an Al Qaeda linked group held Harld Ickler captive in the Sahara Desert, he still hasn't washed the shirt he wore for 54 days of captivity.
Westerners like Ickler who are held hostage by terrorist groups ISIS, Al Qaeda, and its affiliates exist at the forefront of the biggest ideological crisis of our world today – they are literal enactments of ethical imperatives.
Kidnapping victims are symbols of terror, victims of torture, survivors of captivity.
Does paying ransoms fund terrorism? How can governments choose between citizens in captivity and foreign policy agendas? Can we prevent more Youtube videos of beheadings?
Many kidnapping victims hold on to some sort of memorabilia of their experience. It’s painful to remember but not one wants to forget: the burka one woman was forced to wear by Al Qaeda in Yemen, the toothbrush ISIS chiseled down so it couldn't be used as a weapon in Syria, the jacket torn during a beating, the chess set made from equal parts cardboard and boredom.
These pictures are of the objects hostages carried back. Photographing these items allows ordinary objects to stand in for some of the most painful stories of our time.
Commissioned by the New York Times for Rukmini Callimachi’s front-page feature “The Horror Before the Beheadings,” with contributed reporting from Paris, Madrid and Copenhagen. This work was nominated for a Polk Award. Read more about my process for this work and other work on abduction on the New Yorker’sPage-Turner in an interview with Teju Cole.