In the summer of 2004, 39-year-old French journalist, Christian Chesnot, was kidnapped in Iraq on the road to Najaf along with his friend, the journalist Georges Malbrunot, and their Syrian driver Muhamed Al-Joundi.
"You are blindfolded, handcuffed and put in a coffin. For us it was a kind of coffin in a big GMC and you don't know where you are going, what will be the end of the trip, so maybe you can be killed at the end. You don't know."
He was held by the Islamic Army in Iraq for a total of 124 days during which, speaking good Arabic, he managed to gain unique access to his captors, one of the largest insurgent groups in Iraq.
After a lot of negotiations conducted by the French government through intermediaries as well as through direct email contact between the leadership of the Islamic Army and the French Ambassador to Iraq, a deal was reached and he was released just in time for Christmas.
"You are waiting the end, and psychologically it's very hard. You are in a kind of, you know, confusion but it's bubbling... boiling... You fear something, when they open the door they are coming to take us, maybe, and there were some noises around the house so maybe they are preparing the execution"
Since his release six months ago, Christian took a couple of months off in which he and Georges wrote a book about their experience in captivity which has now been published in France.
Last April he started working full time for Radio France as head of their Middle East desk. He travels regularly to the Middle East but has no plans of going to Iraq in the near future.
He has moved to Paris permanently and says his experience has taught him to enjoy his friends and family and the simple things in life even traffic jams:
"I will never be the same, it's impossible. You can't restart your life just as before, it's impossible, because it was a very strong experience, you saw your death in front [of you]. It's something... you know there is a before and an after..."
"You re-discover and you re-enjoy all the basic things in life, having a drink with some friend, even being trapped in a traffic jam, you rediscover the music, the reading, everything, the food, and you are alive, you say hamdillulah, thanks to God."
The following is an extract from "Memoires D'Otages"
by Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, written about their experience in Iraq:
"Between the 15th and the 28th of September, around ten emails in total were exchanged between the kidnappers and Bernard Bajolet (French Ambassador to Baghdad) on his email address at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Islamic Army in Iraq outlined three sets of conditions that could secure our release: First for the French to reiterate their position on the illegality of the war and their refusal to send French troops to Iraq. They also had other demands like - no publicising the contact with the kidnappers, total discretion with all intermediaries, no money, no communication with the Americans. The demands were accompanied by a threat to kill the hostages if the coniditions weren't met. Finally there were political clauses, the kidnappers wanted to obtain concessions on the Islamic headscarf law." (copyright: Calmann-LÚvy, 2005)