Matthew Schrier was a freelance photographer covering his first war when he was abducted by Syrian rebels. Now back in the US after seven months of captivity, Schrier, 35, gives a jarring and incredibly rare firsthand account of the dangers foreigners face among some anti-Assad forces. Schrier tells the New York Times his captors—who he believes were members of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front—took him as he attempted to leave the country on Dec. 31. They were initially gentle, he says. One who offered him a cup of tea even warned him the glass was hot. That didn't last long. He was soon accused of working for the CIA and tortured; in one instance, his feet were whipped with a metal cable until he couldn't walk.
"My socks don’t match and you think I'm in the CIA?" he asked them. His captors drained his bank accounts, shopped under his name on eBay, and sent his mom emails under his name (sample: "I'm working a lot here and having a lot of fun, think I’ll stay here for a while."). He was moved from prison to prison, and in late January was put in a cell with a fellow American who, months later, would be his ticket to escape. In the early hours of July 29, boosted on the man's back, Schrier was able to squeeze through broken mesh in a cell window. He turned to pull his cellmate through, but the man got stuck. They tried again, to no avail. "I'll get help," Schrier told him. He then wandered until he found other rebels who helped him get home. His fellow captive's whereabouts are unknown (the Times is withholding his name at his family's request). The full Times feature is worth a read. (Read more Syria stories.)