Matthew Schrier is an American photographer who survived seven months as an Al-Qaeda captive in Syria before escaping, and the author of The Dawn Prayer: A Memoir.

What We Discuss with Matt Schrier:

  • How Matt Schrier was captured by Al-Qaeda just 45 minutes away from the border on his way out of Syria in 2012.
  • How making his captors laugh on day one of his captivity got him special treatment from a usually unforgiving crowd.
  • What Matt did to survive and plan an escape in spite of an unhelpful, self-sabotaging cellmate.
  • Why Matthew feels betrayed by the FBI and the US government for putting intelligence gathering over the safety of Americans imprisoned by terrorists.
  • Why, even after becoming the first American to escape from Al-Qaeda and feeling betrayed by his own government, he has no regrets about going to Syria in the first place.
  • And much more…

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The Dawn Prayer: A Memoir by Matthew SchrierFreelance photography can be just the ticket to a glamorous, globetrotting lifestyle ideal for any thrill seeker eager to test the boundaries of adventure — and a great way to get locked up and tortured by Al-Qaeda in a secret Syrian terrorist prison for seven months before escaping. You can ask The Dawn Prayer: A Memoir author Matthew Schrier, because he’s got this exact experience practically stamped on his passport.

In this episode, we talk to Matthew about how he was captured by Al-Qaeda on his way out of Syria after what seemed to be a successful journey, why he was detained and tortured for seven months, what the FBI did (and didn’t do) during his captivity, and how even life in a terrorist prison can still be made worse by sharing space with a crazy roommate. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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More About This Show

Homeward bound after his second trip documenting the conflict in Syria, freelance photographer and The Dawn Prayer: A Memoir author Matthew Schrier had every reason to believe his adventures had paid off. But less than an hour from the Turkish border on New Year’s Eve 2012, his car was stopped and he was taken prisoner by Al-Qaeda on suspicion of being a CIA operative.

“I was pretty calm, believe it or not,” says Matthew. “I realized that speaking or begging or doing anything like that at that point was just a waste of time and energy, so I just kept my hands up — because I had a gun to my head — had my head down, and I just focused. I had a lot of high-ranking connections in the Free Syrian Army — generals and whatnot — and in a lot of past conflicts in the Arab world, when somebody has been taken prisoner and they give their references and they check on these references, typically they hand them back out of respect. So I was optimistic.”

When they arrived to their destination 15 minutes or so later, he was taken to a crowded office and offered a seat and a mug of tea. But with so many factions fighting one another, it wasn’t clear just yet who had kidnapped him.

“The way to figure out who had me was I asked for a cigarette,” says Matthew, “because pretty much everyone in the Syrian Free Army smokes and anyone in a gang will smoke. And when they told me I can’t smoke, that’s when I knew I was in really deep trouble with the al Nusra Front — which is Al Qaeda.”

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about why this action was enough to tip Matthew off about the nature of his captors, how he used humor on the first day to increase his chances of survival in a crowd the toughest comedians alive wouldn’t want to face, how active suicide belts are a hot fashion accessory on the terrorist circuit, what happened during the seven months that followed, how he escaped and lived to tell the tale, and much more!

THANKS, MATT SCHRIER!

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