Kidnapped German journalist who gave birth in Syria speaks for first time

Justin Huggler
Janina Findeisen was pregnant when she was kidnapped while reporting from Syria in October 2015

A German documentary maker who was kidnapped in Syria when she was seven months pregnant and gave birth to a son while being held hostage has spoken out about her ordeal for the first time.

“I was fully aware that if it came to it they would cut my head off in front of a camera,” Janina Findeisen told Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

In her first interview since she was freed, Ms Findeisen told how she had travelled to Syria without a mobile phone or tracker in October 2015 in order to interview a former school friend who had joined the jihadist Al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

“I felt under pressure because of the pregnancy. I wanted to tell this story while I could still work and didn’t have to wait until after the birth,” she said.

“I didn’t realise I was making the biggest mistake of my life.”

Ms Findeisen had a guarantee of safe conduct from her former school friend, whom she identifies only as Laura in the interview to protect her identity.

“There is either Islamist propaganda or the terror stereotypes in the media. I thought I could tell their story differently,” she said.

The German was able to cross safely into northern Syria and spent eight days with Laura. But when she tried to leave she was ambushed by gunmen.

Ms Findeisen does not believe her friend was involved in the plot to kidnap her. “I think she was betrayed too,” she said.

Her captors told her the kidnapping was not political and all they were after was money. “The first night I told the wife of one of the kidnappers that I was pregnant, I was crying, and she promised me the men would not do me any harm,” she said.

“There were a few uncomfortable situations, but comparatively speaking I was fine. All the same, it was clear these are not nice, humane types.”

When her baby was due she faked the pain of contractions in the hope she would be taken to hospital. But instead her kidnappers brought a gynaecologist to her.

She later learned the woman doctor’s husband had been abducted and held hostage to force her to come.

After she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, the kidnappers gave her chocolate and nappies, and a cuddly polar bear toy she believes came from an aid delivery.

Ms Findeisen was released and handed over to German government officials in 2016 together with her son. At the time there were rumours of a €5m ransom, but she says German officials told her no money was paid for her release.

She says she was freed after an Islamic sharia court ruled that her abduction had violated the safe conduct she had been given by her former school friend’s group.

She says she will not return to Syria, and will leave other war zones to colleagues who “can cover them better”.

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