When Matthew Schrier planned his escape from an al-Qaida prison, he thought of “Jurassic Park.”
In the movie, the velociraptors tested an electric fence for weaknesses. So Schrier, credited as the only westerner to escape the terrorist group, meticulously studied the wires covering his cell’s window, until he was able to break free, he said.
On Tuesday, Schrier, a Jewish-American and photographer, relayed his experiences of escaping from his seven-month imprisonment in July 2013 to about 70 people in side UF’s Pugh Hall.
“I had a lot of plans, but the first didn’t work,” the 38-year-old said. “The second didn’t either. It’s trial and error.”
Schrier said he was kidnapped by jihadists on Dec. 31, 2012, while leaving Syria, a country torn by a civil war, where he had been taking photographs.
Instead of panicking after being captured, Schrier said he befriended his captors, cracking jokes and trying to get on their good side. He converted to Islam with the help of other Muslim prisoners to avoid being killed.
To maintain his sanity, he said he re-watched movies in his head, worked out and tried to keep track of the days. He tried to escape several times and faced beatings because of it.
Once, his captors forced him face down on the floor, immobilized his legs, and “licked” his feet 115 times with a cable. He limped for days.
Schrier said he planned to escape with his cellmate, another American named Theo Curtis, even though Curtis had threatened to rat him out.
“He was the biggest sissy,” Schrier said. “He didn’t have common sense.”
Curtis wasn’t strong enough to lift himself up through the window, so Schrier left.
He said he didn’t want to be known as the American who left the other American behind, but he also didn’t want to be known as someone who died foolishly. Curtis was later released by al-Qaida, he said.
Javier Nuñez, a UF statistics junior, said he thought Schrier’s story was powerful.
“I would’ve been disheartened,” the 20-year-old said. “He seemed to have been very level-headed about it all, especially compared to his cellmate Theo.”
Contact Jimena Tavel at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @taveljimena
Matthew Schrier, a photojournalist who was held captive for seven months by al-Qaida, shared his story with an audience of about 70 people in Pugh Hall on Tuesday night.