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ISIS Built Its Own Version Of Guantanamo Bay To Mock US

Former Islamic State hostage and journalist Javier Espinosa on Sunday finally revealed the harrowing details of his stay in a high-security Syrian prison designed to mimic Guantanamo Bay.

Espinosa and photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were first abducted in September 2013 while working near the Turkish border. Both were released on March 29, 2014, with strict instructions.

His captors told him that if he spilled any information on the facility before it was time, they would simply execute all the remaining hostages, The Sunday Times reports. Now, almost a year after his release, Espinosa is ready to speak.

According to his account, he was first held in Raqqa but ISIS moved him shortly after to a villa just north of Aleppo in northwestern Syria. The prison was home to at least 23 prisoners. Of those 23, 15 have been released and six executed. Espinosa and Vilanova were tortured, both physically and psychologically, by ISIS militants, who took pleasure in showing them videos of the execution of Sergei Gorbunov, a Russian engineer. Gorbunov was shot in the head and killed.

The infamous “Jihadi John,” the masked executioner now revealed to be Mohammed Emwazi, a radical born in Kuwait who lived in London, was one of the main guards at the prison. When the news of his identity broke, Muslim advocacy group CAGE argued that Emwazi’s treatment at the hands of British security for three years from 2009 to 2012 may account for his turn to brutality.

“Jihadi John wanted maximum drama,” Espinosa recounted. “He had brought along an antique sword of the kind Muslim armies used in the Middle Ages. It was a blade of almost a metre in length with a silver handle.”

“He caressed my neck with the blade but kept talking: ‘Feel it? Cold, isn’t it? Can you imagine the pain you’ll feel when it cuts? Unimaginable pain,'” Espinosa said in The Sunday Times. “After finishing with the sword he holstered his pistol, a Glock. He placed it against my head and pulled the trigger three times. Click. Click. Click. It’s called a mock execution. But not even this terrifying intimidation seemed to satisfy them.”

When Espinosa was transferred from Raqqa to Aleppo, he met American journalist James Foley, who had been caught in Syria in late 2012 while covering the ongoing civil war.

While in captivity together, Foley informed Spanish journalist Espinosa that ISIS was inspired by Guantanamo Bay in designing the prison. This is why the journalists and humanitarian workers were forced by three guards to wear orange jumpsuits. (RELATED: US Official Says ISIS Uses Orange Jumpsuits Because Of Guantanamo)

“‘They had this project for a long time,” Espinosa stated, quoting what Foley had told him. “The [head guard] told us at the beginning they wanted to intern Westerners in a high-security prison with cameras and lots of guards.’”

Espinosa related how Foley had tried to help British photojournalist John Cantlie escape twice. On the first attempt, both were quickly caught before they were even able to get the handcuffs off. During the second attempt, Foley freed himself first and exited the room but decided to delay his own escape until Cantlie was able to break free. However, one of the guards eyed Cantlie’s movements and both journalists were nabbed.

ISIS guards repeatedly beat and tried to drown Foley and Cantlie on multiple occasions, according to Espinosa, which reinforces Cantlie’s separate testimony in an ISIS video that he had been waterboarded.

Several months after Espinosa was released, on July 4, 2014, the Army’s Delta Forces and Navy Seal Team Six dropped in at Raqqa and tried to raid the location where Foley was reportedly held. No hostages were found, according to USA Today.

After the unsuccessful raid, ISIS finally decapitated Foley in August 2014. The chilling and gruesome video was the first to be released by ISIS showing a beheading. (RELATED: IS Beheads American Journalist On Camera)

Steven Sotloff, an American journalist kidnapped in Aleppo in August of 2013, was dragged in front of the camera during Foley’s beheading video, indicating that he was next on the list. And on Sept. 2, 2014, ISIS beheaded Sotloff. (RELATED: ISIS Beheads American Journalist Steven Sotloff)

The last time ISIS killed an American was in the Syrian conflict which began in March of 2011. Based on the most recent ISIS video, Cantlie is still alive, but his fate remains unknown.

One of the other detainees, 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, an American humanitarian worker, was captured by ISIS in Aleppo in August of 2013. At the time, Mueller was working at a hospital to help the victims of the civil war. (RELATED: American ISIS Hostage, Rumored Dead, Served War Refugees: ‘Heartbreaking’)

U.S. officials have confirmed Mueller’s death but said that there is no evidence to support ISIS’ claims that she died during Jordanian air strikes.

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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