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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 05:24 GMT 06:24 UK
UK man tells of 'kidnap' in Syria
By Naresh Puri
BBC News home affairs

Jerome Hibell
Jerome Hibell: Disappeared for three months
A British man who disappeared in Syria for three months says he was kidnapped and forced to confess he was a terrorist preparing to go to Iraq.

Jerome Hibell, 25, moved to Damascus with his wife and child after converting to Islam.

He says he was seized in December last year, beaten and kept in a tiny cell with no light for a month.

The Syrian authorities have refused to comment - and Mr Hibell has called on the British government to intervene.

Mr Hibell moved to the Middle East in 2005 to study Arabic at Damascus University.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Hibell, said he was seized by the authorities on 20 December 2006 and subjected to brutal treatment over 14 weeks.

'Underground tomb'

He says he was buying his wife Fazia a present for Eid, a religious festival, when six men pounced.

"They punched and kicked me and [asked] where's the money and the weapons," Mr Hibell told the BBC. "I was thrown into the back of a van which had its windows blacked out."

Mr Hibell says he was blindfolded and taken to what appeared to be a military base.

He says he was stripped naked, given a dirty military uniform and detained in a cell like "an underground tomb".

"The cell was one metre wide and two metres long," he said. "It was complete darkness for a month, I had no light, no mattress, nothing."

I was interrogated and told that if I admitted that I was a terrorist and I was going to Iraq then I would be freed
Jermone Hibell

He said that for the first seven days he was interrogated by two men who slapped and punched him and beat the soles of his feet with electric cable.

He said: "They wanted me to admit that I was an extremist and wanted to go to Iraq".

Meanwhile his wife Fazia had no idea what had happened.

"He just disappeared, I went to the police and went to the local hospitals, I even searched mortuaries," she said.

After two months the British Foreign Office established Mr Hibell was in Syrian detention, but requests for consular access were ignored. Fazia left Syria fearing she too would be detained.

No charges

Mr Hibell was moved to another prison and held with 50 other men in a 10-metre-long cell, he says.

Damascus skyline
Damascus: Mr Hibell says he was seized on the street

He said: "I was interrogated and told that if I admitted that I was a terrorist and I was going to Iraq then I would be freed. I was scared and thought I'd die in prison, so I made a false confession", he said.

On 31 March 2007, after 14 weeks in detention, he was released. He says he was never brought before a court or charged with an offence.

Scotland Yard officers interviewed him on his return to Heathrow Airport, but then let him go. He is now receiving counselling.

"It's left us devastated, my family didn't know whether I was dead or alive, this could easily happen to someone else," he said.

A spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London has refused to comment on the allegations. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said the matter was now closed as Mr Hibell was safely back in the UK.

But Khalid Sofi, Mr Hibell's solicitor, said questions still needed answering and he called on the Foreign Office to investigate further.

"There has to be a strong message to the Syrians, that this will not be tolerated," he said.

Amnesty International spokesman Mike Blakemore said: "We cannot have a man who is picked up off the streets, and thrown into a cell. It is a very serious situation and fits into a wider picture of what is happening in Syria."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Jerome Hibell on the torture he says he experienced



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