With their executions set to take place within hours, Islamic State prisoners were writing what were to be their last letters to loved ones when Kurdish and US forces changed their fates. As helicopters loomed overhead, Muhammad Hassan Abdullah al-Jibouri, 35, remembers hearing voices speaking Kurdish and English before the door of his cell in Hawija, Iraq, opened. A police officer, Jibouri was detained in retribution for his brother's escape from ISIS and tortured after militants found his cellphone held the numbers of two American soldiers who'd worked with Iraqi police in Hawija in 2008, reports the New York Times. Militants were suspicious of anyone they suspected of contact with Americans or Kurds, and victims suffered electrical shocks, were smothered with plastic bags until they passed out, and were forced to watch videos of beheadings. Pieces of bread kept them alive.
"Torture would continue unless there was a confession. A confession, however, meant execution," a freed captive says in a video, per the International Business Times. Another escapee, a member of the Iraqi Army, recalls ISIS' arrival in Hawija last year, noting militants cleared homes of weapons and money, then paid poor Sunni men $50 to join them. They enforced a strict dress code and rules on how locals were to position their hands and fingers during prayers. Those who broke rules were sometimes beaten, as were those who tried to escape ISIS' area of control. Though happy to be free, Jibouri—who was taken to the Kurdish autonomous region—says his wife and son are still in Hawija. "I can't see them no more," he says through tears. He then asks to send a message to America, adding he's grateful to the US and to Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, who was killed in the rescue. "May God keep him in heaven," he says. (Read more Islamic State stories.)