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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Freelance 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!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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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!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Dawn Prayer: A Memoir by Matthew Schrier
- Matthew Schrier at Eagles Talent Speakers Bureau
- First Impressions: Meeting Al Qaeda in Syria by Matthew Schrier, TEDx Orcas Island
- Escape From Al-Qaeda, Locked Up Abroad, National Geographic
- Michael Scott Moore | What It’s Really like to Be a Pirate Hostage, TJHS 115
- Timeline: The Battle for Aleppo, Reuters
- Guide to the Syrian Rebels, BBC News
- Video Shows ISIS Beheading US Journalist James Foley, CNN
- Rami Makhluf Designated for Benefiting from Syrian Corruption, US Dept. of the Treasury
- Marine Veteran Austin Tice Is Still Alive After Years of Captivity, US Official Says, Task & Purpose
- Journalist Theo Padnos Recounts Years as Syrian Prisoner in Documentary, AP News
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- Full Metal Jacket
- The Breakfast Club
- Guantanamo Bay Naval Station Fast Facts, CNN
- Mike Tyson Vs. Evander Holyfield II: ‘The Bite Fight’ Twenty Years On, ESPN
- How Nasheeds Became the Soundtrack of Jihad, Euronews
- Hraytan, Syria, Google Maps
- Catch Me If You Can
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- Undercover Muslim: A Journey into Yemen by Theo Padnos
- 127 Hours
- Theo Padnos: My Ordeal as Captive of Al-Nusra in Syria, BBC News
- Syria’s New Assad Statues Send a Sinister Message: ‘We Are Back’, The Atlantic
- Ex-Hostage Says There May Be Canadian Al-Qaeda Link, CBC News
- The Families Who Negotiated with ISIS, The New Yorker
- Ex-Al Qaeda Captive Matt Schrier Says He Knows FBI ‘Wronged’ Him, Fox News
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Transcript for Matthew Schrier | How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison (Episode 217)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. Today's guest went to Syria to cover the war and ended up getting kidnapped by Al-Qaeda. We went right into this one here today. No point in during the lead. Am I right? We'll hear this incredible story, how he survived and eventually escaped. Of course, we'll also learn what it took to survive in a Syrian terrorist prison and the skills it took to generate the opportunity to escape. This is a really interesting story-based episode. I just thought this guy really went through it, especially a Jewish kid from Long Island or whatever. It's just you don't really expect that kind of guy to come out swinging, you know? So I really enjoyed this episode here with Matthew Schrier. I found him through my network as always. Six-Minute Networking is how I teach people how to do that. Go to jordanharbinger.com/course teach you how to make connections and maintain them and get amazing people in your life. It doesn't matter if you have a podcast, doesn't matter if you have a business. This stuff works for personal and professional reasons, jordanharbinger.com/course. All right, enjoy.
[00:01:08] Explain the situation. So w why did you go to Syria? Because of course, people at first are going to go, ”You know, you're an idiot. You went to Syria. What's your problem? You were asking for it,” but you know, he had a reason to be there.
Matthew Schrier: [00:01:20] Well, I think the only reason why somebody would be able to say that and have any validity in saying that is if I didn't agree with them. You know what I mean? I can say like, yeah, no, I don't deserve anyone's pity. I went over there on my own volition and I went over there to photograph the war. It was my second time there. I was there a month before photographing the refugees. I was in Southern Turkey. I went across the border into Syria for the first time and I was in Northern Jordan at Zaatari camp. I had been in the country before but not deep because I was testing the waters and feeling things out because I don't do anything recklessly or willy nilly. Everything is very well thought out and planned out, which is why I lasted 18 days and got grabbed literally 45 minutes from the border on my way home.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:10] It's such a bummer --bummers and understatement-- but like you are already done. It wasn't like you're in the middle of this battlefield and then you got taken and it's like “Well, you know, I was in the middle of a tour.” As always, these things seem to happen. It happened at the end. I've got theories about this like maybe people are so glad to be going home because I've heard of multiple people getting kidnapped, not just in Syria but in other places. We had a guy who got kidnapped by Somali pirates and he kind of got nabbed sort of. It was either the beginning or the end. And it's always, they just know that people go in to and from the airport. It's just ripe with victims and it's easy to get them because they're in a car and half the time their guard is down because they're like, “Oh, I'm done.” You know, the worst part's over.
Matthew Schrier: [00:02:56] Right, right, I was on my way to the airport though. My guard was down. I have said that was like my only mistake was not waiting for my fixer. I asked the guy, the host who I was staying with to arrange the ride and he did a brilliant job and set me up. I mean, he did a really good job. He used the cab driver who had been driving me around for three days without incident. So it wouldn't seem out of the ordinary. He gave me a note that he said was, “This is my address in Arabic. You know, just keep it with you. So when you get married you can give it to the cab driver when you come to visit with your wife.” And meanwhile, obviously, it was a note to my kidnappers that I couldn't read that I was carrying around in my wallet. He did a really good job in setting me up and you know, it just so happened that of course, it's on my way home after I got all the photographs I wanted after pretty much, I made sure that all the money I invested in the trip was going to come back and that was wrong.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:54] Well, first of all, what did the notes say?
Matthew Schrier: [00:03:56] I don't know. It was in Arabic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:59] Oh, you never found out what the notes said?
Matthew Schrier: [00:04:01] No, no.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:02] Oh my god, that would put me up at night.
Matthew Schrier: [00:04:04] He wrote something and then he wrote his address in English and he's like, “I'm going to write it in Arabic too. So you know, you can give it to the cab driver when you come back to visit when you're married.” And I'm sitting there thinking like I'm not even engaged, but Arabs are very hospitable people. He was like, you know, hiding me under that guys and whatever was on that note I know it was basically like, he's a CIA agent. I mean, I can guess what it was. He's a CIA agent. He's asking questions, which is really just me being inquisitive because I'm there to document the war. But that's pretty much what was on it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:38] And you're not working for a major news bureau. You're freelance. So you don't have an infrastructure. You're not checking in with your editor every day. You don't have insurance for this stuff, nothing.
Matthew Schrier: [00:04:50] No, no. I had people that I was checking in with so they'd know. If you don't hear from me in two weeks, something went wrong. I hid up, I hid every aspect of me being Jewish online. Like I went on Facebook and I took down everything and on my website, anywhere that I went, like Auschwitz and w where there were photographs of, I took that stuff down, so it wouldn’t arouse, any suspicion, so I was prepared for a worst-case scenario. The only thing was is I was assuming that it would be the government that took me prisoner.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:22] Yeah. Yeah. That's an interesting point. You're thinking A, if Assad's forces get me here while I'm taking photographs, at least they won't be like, “Oh, he's Israeli.” They'll just think, “This dumbass American guy. We'll trade him. You'll be in a prison in some city, Damascus, whatever, where you're at least reasonably safe and probably not being tortured, but you're just in a hole.” But this was far, far worse, of course, getting kidnapped by the people that got you. And I want to get the story. You're getting kidnapped on your way home. It's bad luck. But tell us the story of how this went.
Matthew Schrier: [00:05:57] So I'm staying in Aleppo and I'm just got done working in [indiscernible] [00:06:01], which is like the worst part of the country. You can't get worse than that. It's like, it looks like Stalingrad. Like every building is just leveled. And I was photographing them doing a house fighting, which is how the book starts out. And when I got the photos I wanted, which were really, you know, there were some kickass combat photos, I was like, all right, I'm out. So I asked the guy to arrange a ride because all the phones were down, or at least he was pretending they were down. I don't know which one it was. And he was like, “Sure.” So the next day he arranged a ride with a cab driver and we get out of the city okay and we're cruising past the military academy, which was taken like right before I entered the country. And boom, like this silver Jeep Cherokee, just cuts across from the oncoming lane and forces us to stop. And I was just like, “Whoa.” And I smiled because I thought we just converted a serious car accident and then the doors popped open and they got out and my smile was gone. That's when the guy in the front seat, cloaked head to toe in black. He had an AK in his hand. Dude in the back seat, just as puck face guy sweater with a Chrome Pistol in his hand. They jumped out and I knew exactly what was going on and I was just like in shock and I just sat there like whoa. Dude in the black came over, opened the cab door, very gently, takes me by the arm, takes me out, leads me over to the Cherokee, puts me in the back seat. He gets in after me, I looked at him, he reaches up, he pulls the ski cap I was wearing cause it's cold and Syria in December. This was New Year's Eve. He pulls it over my eyes and leads me forward and presses the barrel of the rifle to my head and we took off a couple of seconds later.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:32] What at this point are you feeling? Are you really scared or are you thinking, you know what this can't nearly be that bad? Or are you just sort of like hyperventilating or not even thinking about future projections? You're just thinking about the exact moment you're in because of fight-or-flight. Like what's going on in your brain?
Matthew Schrier: [00:07:50] I was pretty calm, believe it or not.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:53] I do believe, I do believe that and what's weird is it's a weird calm. Calm maybe not the right word. It's like a hyperfocus because you're so vigilant.
Matthew Schrier: [00:08:06] I’m thinking about what am I going to say when I get to where I'm going? I realized that that's speaking or begging or doing anything like that at that point was just a waste of time and energy. And so I just kept my hands up --because I've got a gun to my head-- had my head down. Then I just focused, all right, what am I going to say? How am I going to present myself? I had a lot of connections in the Free Syrian Army like high ranking connections generals and whatnot. 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 and the guy says, “Yeah, we invited him.” Typically, they hand them back, you know, out of respects here we obviously changed that entire spectrum of how that works. I was optimistic that given the very high ranking people that I knew, they would check with them, they would vouch for me, and they would hand me back. That's what pretty much kept me calm and kept me focused on how I'm going to present this case.
[00:09:03] It was like a 10 to 15-minute drive and then we got to the place and I get out of the Cherokee and there are just feet everywhere because you know, I can only see until about, you know, till about the knees and there are kids all over the place because you could tell the by the colors and how small the feet are. And it was as if they were like waiting for me as if they knew I was on my way. Two guys, just one on each side of me, they led me into the building, down the stairs, up the hallway, told me to take off my shoes, which I did, and then they just sat me down basically in the office, in front of a desk.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:38] Wow. At this point, are you still thinking I'll be out of here by the end of the day or this is going to take –
Matthew Schrier: [00:09:45] I'm thinking it's possible. I mean nobody mistreated me. I mean, yeah, they put a gun to my head, but it's Syria. I mean that's every day. Nobody hit me. Nobody screamed at me. Because even if you don't understand Arabic, you know when somebody threatening you. So nobody was really acting hostile except for obviously taking me against my will. So I'm sitting there and there's a lot of people in the room and somebody offers me a glass of tea and I was like, you know, it threw me back a little bit and I accepted it obviously because Arab hospitality is it's something that you take a lot of pride in, so you don't want to say no. And I took the tea, handed it to me, “Be very careful. It's very hot,” and I'm like, “All right.” You know, I’m sipping my tea.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:30] Yeah. Like don't burn your hands and also don't move or I'll shoot you in the head with an AK-47.
Matthew Schrier: [00:10:35] Yeah, there's a guy like five feet away wearing a suicide belt. I'll be careful with this tea.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:42] Wait, you saw a guy with a suicide belt or just you're just messing around?
Matthew Schrier: [00:10:45] No, no. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He walks over. So you know, at the end, after they take off my blindfold, but we're getting ahead of ourselves there.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:53] Yeah. Okay. Because I'm—All right, because once you see a suicide belt, aren't you thinking wait, wait, regular soldiers don’t wear bombs on their waist?
Matthew Schrier: [00:11:03] Well, I mean by that point, because I still didn't know who had me. There are so many different possibilities in Syria. It could be Al-Qaeda, which is the Al-Nusra Front who had me. It could be the Free Syrian Army. They're not all kosher those guys. It could be a gang. You know the way to figure out who had me was I asked for a cigarette because like pretty much everyone in the Free Syrian Army smokes and anyone in the gang will smoke. And when they told me I can't smoke, that's when I knew I was in really deep trouble with Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda. And also whenever I cursed, which I do often, uh, they would get upset, which is another sign because, you know, smoking is a sin and profanity is a sin. So within really a couple of minutes of the conversation starts, I was able to figure out who had me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:53] So at this point, you're like, “Hey, let me get a cigarette.” And they're like, “No, no smoking.” Were you just like, “Oh shit!”
Matthew Schrier: [00:12:03] Pretty much, man. And that's when I started thinking like, all right, how do I avoid being tortured because these guys are definitely going to torture me. And I said, “Well, I have to make them like me.” How do you make terrorists like you? And I said, all right, I got to make these guys laugh because nobody tortures the guy that makes them laugh. Nobody dislikes someone who makes them laugh. Pretty much immediately upon formulating that, somebody sat down beside me and he looked at the blindfold/cap from my eyes and I shut them tight. So you wouldn't think I was peaking, but he was holding it up because he wanted me to look. And then I opened them very slowly and sitting next to me was this pretty intense dude. He was a very commanding figure, not old. He was in his early 30s, maybe a few years younger than me and he just smiled at me and then he lowered the cap back over my eyes. So I was just like, “All right, this guy seems approachable.” And I asked him, I was like, “Can I ask you a question?” And he's like, “Yes.” So I said, “Are you going to kill me?” And he just paused briefly and replied, “Nah,” and I let a few seconds go by and then I just threw up my fist and I screamed out “Happy new year!” and leaned over when I did it. And he was just like, “What the hell is going on here?” He jumped back a little bit and then everyone in the room started saying, “What'd you say? What'd he say?” Because General Mohammad, that's his name, he was laughing at what I did. And he's like, he translated, he said happy new year. And they all started laughing. So I was like, “All right, good job man. You broke the ice. Keep it going, keep it going.” A few minutes, a few seconds later, Mohammad, he asked me my name, I told him my name is Matthew because you never say Matt in Arabic. It means dead. So I would always say Matthew and he renamed me—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:37] Yeah, don't give him any ideas. Right?
Matthew Schrier: [00:13:38] Yeah. The last thing you want to be known as is dead. That's how I look at it especially in that country. He looked at me and he's like, “No, now your name is Jumu’ah. It means Friday a holiday. Do you like it?” And I'm like, “Yeah, you know what doesn't love Friday?” And that's very significant over there. Like Jumu’ah is a very sacred day to them. For him to name me after that was a sign that, okay, this dude likes me and I'm off to a good start.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:06] Is that how you got your Skype name? I won't give it away on the show.
Matthew Schrier: [00:14:09] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:11] That's really funny.
Matthew Schrier: [00:14:12] Because there was a, later on in the book there's a character called Pops and he would always call me Mr. Friday. That's kind of where my Skype name came from. It's not Mr. Fridays for anyone listening, so don't even try it. But, yeah, that's where it came from right after I came home. So after a few minutes, they brought in a translator to interrogate me and basically they let me know that, “We had, you know, reports that there are CIA operatives in the area and we have to find out who you are,” and which was totally ridiculous. Anyone who speaks to me for like five seconds realizes that I'm not the CIA.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:48] Especially you don't speak Arabic like you have a freaking iPhone or an Android and nothing else and a camera. It's just ignorant ass country bumpkin BS with these guys.
Matthew Schrier: [00:15:01] It's just paranoia. And it's funny because that you say that because every FBI agent and CIA agent carry blackberries and I have an iPhone. And it's funny because they think anyone with an iPhone is a CIA. They associate iPhones with CIA and people who walk around that country. It doesn't matter who you are. If you're an Arab or if you're an American, whatever, if you have an iPhone, you're suspect, unless you know, they know who you are. So he asked me, and this guy is a Canadian, by the way, who is doing this interrogation.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:33] So he should know better. He should be like, “Hey, you know, back at Canada where I grew up, even though I'm a traitor and deserve to be hung, a lot of people have iPhones and they're not spies.”
Matthew Schrier: [00:15:43] Exactly. But he's kind of beyond that point and he's brainwashed by now or if he wasn't always. This interrogation goes on and I'm just answering basic questions, who I knew and basically giving them all the information they need to contact people in Syria, in Jordan, in Turkey to verify who I am. At the end of it, they lift up my blindfold and that's when I was just like, all right, you know, what's going to happen next? Usually, you'd expect them to slap me around, beat me, torture me, you know, show me how things work there. But instead, Mohammad gets up and starts showing off his gun collection to me. I mean, and he had like these really pretty sick guns that were, you know, type of shit you see in like a SWAT scene in a movie. He was very proud of the American ones. “American, American.” That's when some little dude walks over wearing this pinstriped suicide belt and he looked like an Arab Woody Allen. He was like this little nerdy guy and he's just like standing there strutting around wearing it. That was the first time I ever saw one and I was like, “I’ve never seen anyone of those before, you know, pinstripes, huh?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:50] Yeah. Like if you're going to blow yourself up, at least get some props before you click the button.
Matthew Schrier: [00:16:56] Go Yankees. Yeah. So, I just wanted to, because I like, like once you're, you're a few weeks in, you get so used to seeing them that you realize that these guys actually wear them as fashion accessories. And that's not an exaggeration. Like Mohammad's kid had one, he was like 12 years old, he had his own little custom-made suicide belt. They all have them and they wear them in situations where they know they're not going to blow themselves up. They're like in their own territory on a base surrounded by hundreds of these guys and they're just walking around wearing one. God forbid they slip on a puddle or something.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:35] That's what I'm wondering. I mean, these guys sound like there's so stupid it throughout the whole book you're just like, these guys are all idiots. I would just think, I don't want a bunch of Semtex or whatever's in the explosives around waist at all times where if I like to sit on the toilet wrong, I blow up myself and all my friends.
Matthew Schrier: [00:17:55] Exactly. Like there's a part where I'm brought outside and I'm like talking to Mohammad. Custom there you kiss both cheeks and then like the shoulder and I do that when I'm blindfolded and he jumps back because he's wearing his suicide belt and I got like too close to it. So it's such a ridiculous custom that they have if you can call it that, but it's one of the grim realities of the environment.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:24] All right. How old were you at this point?
Matthew Schrier: [00:18:27] I was 34.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:28] Oh man, and you said you hid the fact that you are Jewish online, but I assume you hid it there too. I don't know what would really be a giveaway.
Matthew Schrier: [00:18:36] That was one of the first questions they asked me. It's just like, “What is your background? And I was just like, “Well, I'm 34 years old, I'm from New York.” He's like, “No.” He's like, “What is your background? What religion are you? What are your parents?” So I was just like, “I'm a Christian and my grandparents all came with great grandparents, all came over from Germany.” And they love that answer for obvious reasons. So one of the guys was like, “Ah, German.” And I'm like, “Yeah, you know, German.” Meanwhile, I'm—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:00] Is that like a Holocaust reference? I don't even get it.
Matthew Schrier: [00:19:03] Yeah. Basically, I knew they would love German if there's one white race that these people would actually like it's Germans. So that's why I said it. Plus my last name sounds German. Meanwhile, I'm mostly Russian descent, which makes it even worse because Russia's backing the regime, supplying them with their weapons and it's not the country you want to be associated with along with America and Judaism.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:31] Right. So you can be like, Russian Jew, but I live in America and they're just like, “Just kill him now. Just kill him right now.”
Matthew Schrier: [00:19:36] Get the video camera and the jumpsuit out now. I literally wouldn't have lasted like two weeks. After this interrogation, they take me to like, “All right, we're going to take you to your room,” which is what they call a cell. “Take you to your room.” And they locked me in the room and that's when I said to myself, all right, you might be here for a very long time.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:20:01] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guests, Matt Schrier. We'll be right back.
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[00:23:00] Thank you for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts from our amazing sponsors and to help keep the show going, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Matthew Schrier. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to Jordan harbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free and it just means that you get all the latest episodes in your podcast player of choice as they're released so you don't miss a single thing from the show. Now back to our show with Matt Schrier.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:38] How was that conversation with yourself? You know, that had to be kind of hard.
Matthew Schrier: [00:23:45] It’s a surreal situation. It's like capture shock. I'm sure you've heard of it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:49] Not really. What is that?
Matthew Schrier: [00:23:51] It's just like when, when you get kidnapped or like a soldier gets captured or something, there's like this shock that comes over the body where a lot of people aren't thinking or you're not paying attention to things that you should be paying attention to. Like when you go in and out of the buildings, you know, you should be paying attention. It's below your blindfold. Like are there chairs set up? Are their tea kettles? If you get out of your cell, can you escape from this area? And you know, like my sensors weren't on because of that, and this is where I started, I guess, basically like coming back to earth because of just the surreal situation I was in. And I started pacing back and forth and I said to myself, “Two days, give yourself two days.“ Because they said they were going to investigate me. If I was telling the truth, they were going to let me go. So I was just like, “All right, two days is way long enough for them to contact all my contacts in the Free Syrian Army in Hraytan, which is a town Northeast of Aleppo, and look at my photographs, do their investigation, and let me go. So day turned into night and night turned into day, I got a visit from Mohammad, he brought me a bottle to urinate in, which was against the rules and an extra blanket. I was actually like thrown off at first. I got to admit, like every time he would come in the room—usually, Abdullah was there because Mohammad could speak English a little bit, but not fluently.
[00:25:11] And I even said it, I was like, “You know, you guys are pretty nice. Nothing like what you see in the movies.” And they started laughing and they were just like, “Yeah, you know, it's your government. That's the bad guys.” And I'm like, “Yeah, all right, whatever.” But they were being really cool to me and I was just like, all right, maybe, maybe this isn't going to be so bad. And then day turns into night and night turns into day and you know, the window is blocked off, so once the sun goes down, I'm in darkness because they rip out the light switch and then the sun comes up, cracks light up lighting the room and that's when I started hearing people getting tortured up the hall and you just hear whack, whack, whack. And they're screaming and begging for mercy and yelling out, “Allahu Akbar,” without ever getting an ounce of any mercy. And that's when I was just like, “Where the F am I?” And I just kept pacing and pacing. I'm waiting for my turn because like if anyone's going to get it, you figured the American but it never came instead Mohammad keeps visiting me and he's bringing me food or making the punks bring me like hot food, the same stuff they cook for themselves. He's giving me the bottle. He's basically coming in there sometimes and he's like, “It's going to be okay. It's going to be okay Jumu’ah.” And I'm just like, “All right man, when are you going to let me go?” Soon inshallah, which means by the will of God.
[00:26:28] Basically, this goes on for a few days, and on my fifth day there I started getting the impression that they were testing me to see if I had the training to deal with the situation. I was like, all right, I got to do something to prove to these guys that I'm not a trained CIA operative. And I just said, all right, you got to lose it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:47] Yeah. Lose your shit a little bit.
Matthew Schrier: [00:26:50] Yeah, because I was being way too cool about everything because I’ve locked up when I was 16, which is a long time ago. And I've been a model citizen ever since and I was just like, all right, I got to show these guys that I'm a normal guy and I don't have training for this. So I just started wailing on the door and screaming and yelling and cursing and crying. It was like, it was like a Daniel Day-Lewis type performance.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:17] Your method acting.
Matthew Schrier: [00:27:20] And I'm the worst actor that ever lived. But it's amazing what you can do with a gun to your head.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:27] Well, I mean, I don't know how much acting you had to do being locked in a basement in Syria with Al-Qaeda.
Matthew Schrier: [00:27:31] Yeah, with people being tortured up the hall. But I mean, it's not like I can just make myself like do this in a believable way. I mean, anyone can just bang on a door and scream. But to do it in a way that actually, proves that you're not trained and get you sympathy and pity from these guys who really are born without it. It's something that to this day, I'm still surprised that it worked because I was banging on the door and doing this for like a half an hour and nobody does this there. You've got to realize I was at this place for over two months and nobody ever did this. And I'm banging on the door and finally, the key turns and I hear it open and I was just like, “Oh man, what did I do?” Like I seriously regretted everything that I just did. I put my head to the wall because that's protocol. Whenever somebody comes into a room, you got to put your head through the wall and you can't turn around until they give you permission. And the guys like, “Yala,” and I was just like, ”No. You know what?” I was like, “I changed my mind. I don't want to talk to anybody anymore. I'm cool.” And he was like, “Yala.” He doesn’t understand the damn word I say because he’s like the kid that feeds me and takes me to the bathroom. So he takes me out into the hallway and now I'm really freaking out because I'm like they're going to torture me. I was like they're definitely going to torture me. And I'm like, “Nah, just put me back in the cell. Please, please, please, please.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:43] Did you pee your pants? You should have peed yourself that would have been believable.
Matthew Schrier: [00:28:48] No, somebody else does that later on, who I get locked up with. There’s no bathroom in my cell anyway, so I can't even clean myself up. But I'm freaking out. And then I hear, “Jumu’ah,” and that's how like Mohammad would always greet me and there's like this jovial, enthusiastic way and he's like, “Jumu’ah.” He comes up behind me and he literally lifts up my leg and removes my shoe. His friend comes around, the other side does it to my other leg and they lead me into the room. And oh my god, I'm telling you, my world is spinning. I'm like, what the hell is going on here? You know what I mean? And he sits me down by this stove. This is the office. The office is like this huge room. They have an office in the corner and then there's a hot stove and like a chill area with mattresses on the floor. And they sit me down, they take off my blindfold and Mohammad like slams a glass in front of me and pours me tea. That's the sign of respect. He serves me first and he serves his friend and then himself. They're actually trying to calm me down. In the process, he takes out his Glock, he pops the clip, he hands it to me to play with. Abdullah comes in, he's the Canadian that speaks English, he sits down and we just started hanging out and they're like throwing all these ridiculous propositions at me. They're feeling me out to see if they can turn me to help me smuggle stuff into the country. And of course, I'm like, yeah, I'll do it.” As if I'm not going to run away two seconds after they let me go.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:13] Yeah. What are they thinking? Or is this just all trickery?
Matthew Schrier: [00:30:17] Like they're feeling me out. I mean, you got to contextualize everything and compare this treatment to what everyone else, especially the Americans went through and James Foley to my future cellmate, and none of them got this kind of treatment. They're literally feeling me out. And this is all because of Mohammad. Mohammad liked me. I didn't realize how important he was until later on this evening. He was the reason why all this happened. He ran the jail. This is what I basically found out and made the rules. So he's putting, obviously telling people that like, “I liked this guy. He’s cool, blah, blah, blah,” and they're not buying it. This goes on for like 45 minutes. I'm hanging out with these guys, and as soon as they see that I'm calm. They're like, “All right.” Abdullah was like, “We're going to bring you back to your cell because me and my brothers were very busy,” and I'm like, “Doing what man? Can I just go watch TV?” And I was like, “I'm not going to try to escape.” And he's like, “No.” I was like, “Well if you put me back in there, I'm going to do it again,” and he's like, “Don't do it again.” So I was like I'm going to do it again. So he puts you back in there and I do it again. This time they take me out after like five minutes and they start screaming and yelling at me and I'm screaming back and I'm like, “There's no light. It's going to be dark soon.” He's like, “We'll give you a candle.” And I'm like, “What about a bath? I stink.” And he's like, “We'll give you a shower, but you have to do it in the cold,” because the power went out while I was blindfolded and there was no hot water. I was like, “I'm not doing that. I'm going to get sick. It's cold.” And he's like, “Then don't bathe.” And they threw me back on my cell and like literally like 60 seconds after they locked me in there, the door opens up and somebody throws something in the room. I turn around and it's a candle. A couple of hours later it gets dark. Somebody jobs my dinner, they light the candle without me even asking before that candle even burns out, somebody else comes into the cell, tells me to roll up my blankets and follow them. I do it, cover my eyes and he locks me in a new cell with 18 regime POW so that I would have company and not flip out anymore.
[00:32:24] I learned from these POWs that the reason why I was given all this preferential treatment was because of Mohammad. Mohammad went in there before about an hour before I went in there and he told them you're going to have a new cellmate. He's an American. Nobody messed with him. And he said it and he said it in a way where they were afraid to talk to me at first because Mohammad is not the guy you want to piss off. When he likes you, you're good. But when he doesn't like you, I mean you can hear the people screaming from up the hall. It took a little while for me because I walked around the room. I introduced myself to every prisoner there. I shook their hands and that's when one of them told me, “You know, we're not supposed to talk to you. We were given a warning.” So they let their guard down after about five minutes to a few hours with some of them. And after that, these guys literally turned out to be the best friends I ever had in my life. I mean, they didn't hold anything against me, not being an American, not shooting with the FSA who are their sworn enemies. They were just like, you know, we're all in the same boat here. We eat together, we live together. It was a privilege to know these guys.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:36] So these guys were regime soldiers. So they were fighting for Assad.
Matthew Schrier: [00:33:40] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:41] And then you had been captured by Al-Qaeda, which has known as Al-Nusra Front in Syria. And then FSA Free Syrian Army is soldiers that defected from the regime forces and formed militias that were fighting the regime. Is that what that is?
Matthew Schrier: [00:33:57] No, the Free Syrian Army was the main fighting force at the time. They were the ones that the US government was backing. They were like the opposition minus the extremist ties. So they were like the ones trying to overthrow the, you know, they're the ones who rose up after all those protests started in the shootings at the protests. They're the ones that rose up to fight against the government. So they were like considered the good guys with a lot of bad guys in it. And the Al-Nusra Front had a lot of infiltrators in there. And the FSA was allied with Al-Nusra because they needed them. Because Al-Nusra was a smaller faction at the time, but they were the best fighters in the country, you know, bar none when it came to the opposition. They were aligned with each other but the guys you didn't want to be taken by. Because this is all before the rise of ISIS. At this time, Al-Nusra was the number one power at the time. This group of prisoners was hands down the most valuable in the country at the time. One of them was the cousin of Rami Makhlouf and Rami Makhlouf was the richest guy in Syria. He's related to Bashar Assad through marriage and he's worth $6 billion at the time, controlled 80 percent of the Syrian economy. So me being with him, signifies how important this group of prisoners where. There were two colonels and another one of the colonels was part of a very prestigious family, which is friends with the Assad's. It was not just a random group of soldiers.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:36] I'm surprised the whole Syrian army was not out combing the streets for you guys at this point. If they had those two super high valued targets, they must've been pretty worried about them.
Matthew Schrier: [00:35:47] Yes and no. I mean, one of them came home, Rami Makhlouf came home in an exchange, but the other one never did. This was like ground zero for the headquarters of the Al-Nusra Front. It was a whole complex of hospitals. And at that time, I guess the regime was sticking to the code where we don't bomb hospitals which is obviously why these guys always set up bases in hospitals. So they were snug in an area where they couldn't. There's a part in the book where you remember where there was an assault on the hospital and they beat it back. And I was rooting for the regime because I was in a different cell by this point, but I was just like, these guys up the hall, there's no way I'm going to be kept prisoner. They'll release me within like a week with all those guys vouching for me. But they beat it back because they are a formidable adversary.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:45] Yeah. I'm going to get hate mail for this, but they were trained by Pakistan a lot of these guys probably.
Matthew Schrier: [00:36:53] I don't know about that. Mohammad fought in Iraq. A lot of these guys are battle-hardened soldiers who fought in Iraq against Americans and we have the best training in the world. But if there's any training that can compete with ours, it's just throwing somebody onto a battlefield to fight Americans. Because if you live, that means either you ran away or you really learned how to fight and survive and Mohammad is not the type of guy to run away. And him and most of the upper equity on of the Al-Nusra Front, that's where they all made their bones in Iraq.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:30] So you're in the cell with these guys and how are you able to stay sane during this time? How long were you in there?
Matthew Schrier: [00:37:40] I was only in there for five days and all right because the lights would go out and these guys didn't have a window and darkness is a bitch. Like it really messes with your mind. There's really no getting used to it for some people. And these guys would just, as soon as the lights would go out, they'd go to sleep and it was amazing. I could never just tune out like that. And like my, my mind is just too active and five days in they threw in 13 shabiha, it should be hot or militants civilians who pick up arms and fight on the side of the regime against the opposition and they hate them the most. Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the FSA, they hate these guys the most because they consider them traitors to the revolution. They should be fighting with us. They're civilians. So they threw 13 of them in with us in the cell was like really overcrowded. So, Mohammad had the move me into solitary and they set up a cell for me. There were five blankets on a mat on the floor and I had four already. So I had nine blankets. Now everyone else gets one or two. Basically, I was given a room with a light, which obviously increases things in terms of comfort and I was kept in solitary for 13 days.
[00:38:58] After 13 days, somebody just comes suddenly to my door at night, tells me to follow them and now I'm wearing a quilt because I washed my pants and they were drawing on the doorknob. I grabbed my pants and I go with him. He locks me back up with the soldiers but only for like 15 minutes. And after like 15 minutes of being with the guys, they all welcomed me back and it's pitch black in the room. We hear a whole bunch of jihad assembling outside the door. The door opens and everybody faces the wall and I don't have my blankets because I just grabbed my pants and I had to leave my nine blankets and all those guys are they're infested with bedbugs so I don't want to sit with them. So I just stand up against the pillar and leaned against it. They entered the flashlights, like cutting through the darkness and you just hear, “Jumu’ah.” So I was like, “All right, Mohammad.” And I turned around, “What up?” I give him five. He's like, “What are you wearing?” And he's with all these like badass hardcore dudes. There's a bunch of them with big beards and they got Uzis and AKs like these are like the real deal straight off the frontline fighters. He showing us off to them. Most likely they're from another group, most likely this the Islamic State or they're just really high up Al-Nusra guys. He's like showing off all the prisoners and he just lights up. He's like, “Jumu’ah, come with me. Come.” We go out into the hallway and all these guys are following and no blindfold, which is really rare because they blindfold you every time you leave the cell and he goes out to the cell next door.
[00:40:25] He’s like, “Come, come.” So we all crowd him around the door. And these guys, these maniacs, they were all excited too. They want to see what he is going to show them. He opens the door and he just leaps in and he's like, “Ah,” and this poor bastard just jackknifes up. He's terrified. His beard down to his chest, babbling in Arabic as they shine their lights in his face and Mohammad is just messing with him. They're all laughing at him and Mohammad just looks at me and he goes, “American, American like you.” And I was just like, “Yeah, right.” Because he speaks in Arabic this guy. I was just like, “Yeah, whatever, man.” I was like, “Can I go get my blankets and I'll go back in with the soldiers?” And he's like, “No, no, no. You can stay here now. You have somebody to talk to.” And that's when I look through the muck on this guy and I realized that he wasn't American and he wasn't joking. And that was the worst moment of my life because that was the second I realized they weren't letting me go. They had me for three weeks. They never let me see him. They never let me hear him. They kept him a complete secret from me, which meant they were thinking about letting me go. As soon as they let me see him, I said, “Aw shit man.” I was just like, “They're not letting me go.” You know what I mean? Because if they didn't want me to know him in case I got like let go, I wouldn't be able to tell anyone he was there. Now, I'm sharing a cell with him and it meant that I wasn't going to be released and my morale just sank. Then I started talking to him and it sank even more.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:00] What made you think even more when you started talking to this guy?
Matthew Schrier: [00:42:03] Oh my god, well, Mohammad let me go get my nine blankets and then I set up and you know, he was just like, ”I've been here for three months,” and I was just like, “Oh Jesus, three months.” And he's like, “Yeah.” So he tells me his name and then he's got two names like straight off the bat, he doesn't really know which name to use. And he's like, all right, I told them this is my name, just use that name because the other one, I wrote a book with it and it's linked to Islamic extremism and I don't want them to know. The thing that really pissed me off was, you know, he told me he was there to do a story about Austin Tice. Austin Tice is the first American journalist to go missing in Syria. He's been missing for six or seven years already. And as soon as I heard that, I was just like, “You here to do a story about Tice.” He's like, “Yeah.” And that means like, okay, so this guy is a type of person who would try to make money off of what's happening to me right now and just in regards to character, you don't want to be locked in a room with somebody who would try to profit off of your misfortune. And from there it just continued to go downhill. Like you know, he didn't know what year it was anymore. He knew how long he was there and the date he was taken. But he didn't know what year it was cause it was January of 13. He still thought it was 2012. And then he told me how he got captured and that was just like, oh my god. Like it's the type of story whenever I do is a speaking engagement and people ask how he was taken. They all say the same thing after I finished. They go, you can't make that shit up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:41] How did he get captured?
Matthew Schrier: [00:43:44] Well, basically, he goes in to do a story about Austin Tice, which he doesn't want to admit, even though there's documentation in my book proving it and he doesn't have any contacts in Syria. What he does is he rents a room and some $10 a night hotel in Southern Turkey where Syrian refugees are known to congregate. He meets a nice Syrian boy named Osama with blonde highlights running through his black hair kids about 19, 20 years old. He tells Osama he wants to go into Syria and research Tice. So Osama was like, “All right, let me get some of my friends and we'll be your guide.” So they talk them into jumping the border, which he does at night. So nobody knows now when he crossed or where he crossed into and they stay in a house outside of Idlib, which is a city. And the next day he interviews them and one of them breaks on a pair of handcuffs and they beat the crap out of him and let him in on the fact that they kidnapped him. And I was just like, “So you hired your kidnappers?” He's like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “Wait a minute. So you got kidnapped before you even entered Syria?” And he's like, “No, they kidnapped me after.” And I'm like, “No, they let you win on it after.” And it gets worse. It gets worse. So now, he's kidnapped by these kids. They're all kids. They're like 19, 20 years old and they don't know what to do with him. And he tells people that it was Al-Qaeda, but they're just really a bunch of punks.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:06] Yeah, they wanted like they wanted beer, money or whatever basically.
Matthew Schrier: [00:45:10] Yeah, they wanted money for hashish. They're like, “All right, what are we doing with him now? We want $400,000,” but they don't know how to collect it. So, basically, they just like give him away and he just ends up getting passed around from group to group, like a puppy nobody wants. And eventually, he ends up with these guys, you know who he's handcuffed to at night while they go to sleep. He slips out of the cuffs, sneaks out of the apartment, barefoot, flags down a friendly vehicle and this guy picks him up and drives him to the closest free Syrian Army Headquarters. And FSA, they take them in, they feed them, they give him a shower, they give him, they buy him new clothes, they put him in an apartment that they keep, especially for journalists. And the next day after they do all this stuff, they go to the apartment and they say, “All right dude, what do you want to do? You want us to just give you a right to Turkey or you want to drive around and look for these guys?”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:03] Oh, no, oh my god, I know the answer to this question.
Matthew Schrier: [00:46:07] And this idiot says, “Let's go look for them.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:10] Oh my god.
Matthew Schrier: [00:46:13] Okay. So now he's crammed into the back seat of a car between two maniacs holding AK-47 is being driven by two people, being driven by somebody and somebody in shotgun, with AKs and then driving around and looking for these guys. And he spots the car because apparently they had a very distinct car and he's like, “There they are.” So the FSA, they pull over and they get out and they're like, “Yo, you kidnapped this guy and they're pissed.” They're like totally on my cellmate’s side. The kidnappers like, “No, I didn't kidnap him. I arrested him. He's a CIA agent.” And then there's like this immediate shift and all the FSA guys go, they look at him and then he'd go back to the kidnapper and they're like, “You want him back?” And just like that, the people who were going to drive him to the border, hand him back over to the kidnappers that night. They have a party, the kidnappers and the FSA guys and they torture him together. They waterboard him. They dig a hole and they make them think they're going to bury him alive. And then after that, they bring them to Bab al-Hawa, which is on the border of Turkey and he's put through like some mock trial and the star witness of the is the guy that he pointed out. So, the guy that he pointed out comes in, says “This guy is a CIA agent. I arrested him.” And that's when they hand them over to Al-Nusra. He lies because it's so embarrassing like what happened to him. He just says he was kidnapped by Al-Nusra and the FSA, you know, after he went to their base, they just handed him over after they knocked on the door and found him right away. That's not really practical in a city like that. So basically that's where he's judged guilty in Bab al-Hawa, they hand him over to Al-Nusra Front. He ends up in the trunk of like an SUV on the way to Aleppo and that's how he ended up in the hospital.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:48:15] You're listening to The Jordan harbinger Show with our guest Matt Schrier. We'll be right back after this.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:32] You know, it's unbelievable but then the more you read about this guy Theo, he is just the dumbest guy anywhere. And it's weird cause he has a PhD. He's like this guy who has no common sense, no sort of interpersonal skills. No redeeming qualities seemingly but he's got a PhD and he speaks like five languages. He's just, but he's just a complete POS this guy.
Matthew Schrier: [00:52:59] Yeah. And it's funny that you said that because to people who have met him came back to me and they said like, “Is he autistic?”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:07] I was wondering that same thing. I was like, is he like on the spectrum or something? Because he's just a horrible, not that people who are on the spectrum all are like this of course, but somebody who is this bad, you just think this isn't a normal person. Like this is a person who's got personality issues and is also an a-hole on top of it.
Matthew Schrier: [00:53:28] It's funny because the editor of my book had me put that suggested we put that in there, that he's on the spectrum and instead I said, you know, sometimes he just makes me feel like George Milton who's from of Mice And Men. The only way to describe him is he was the equivalent to journalists of what have a Gomer Pyle was to Marines in Full Metal Jacket. You know, he's just this guy who can't do anything right ever. You know, that raises the level of danger for somebody like me in a situation like that. One of the reasons why I chose to do this alone because I met other photographers in Southern Turkey who wanted to come with me. I said, “No,” because I don't want to have to be responsible for anybody. And here I am thrown into this situation with this guy who just cannot take care of himself at all.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:19] Oh man, he just kept doing all kinds of dumb stuff. Like didn't he carve a Star of David into the wall? Like talking about just asking to get shot in the head?
Matthew Schrier: [00:54:27] Yeah. And because he's one of those guys who thinks that he's smarter than everyone. And you know, one of the things that I've always said way before I met this guy is the guy who thinks he's the smartest one in the room is usually the dumbest. And that has never been more true than with Theo. And this is like within the first day, I think the next day when the sun came out or the lights were on, I don't remember which one it was, I'm pacing and I see something carved into the wall and it's, it's abstract, but it's distinct. I was just like, ”Is that a Star of David?” And he's like, “Yeah.” And I like, “Did you put that there?” And he's like, “Yeah, they don't know what it is.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:07] Oh my god. They're sworn enemy for their entire life. They never have seen it.
Matthew Schrier: [00:55:13] They share a border with Israel. You don't think any of them have seen in Israeli flag? And I actually, you know, I had a carve-out my own religious symbol in a place where I needed faith the most. And I'm not the most religious person in the world, but nobody wants to scratch out their own religious symbol. I mean, it just feels disrespectful. And that was like the moment where I really realized like this guy got to be watched, this guy has to be watched, and I have to get out of here. That's kind of around the time where I started to realize like I have to escape be, and it's not because of the bad guys only. It's because I got to get away from this guy too. It didn't take too much longer until I noticed the mark he put in the door. One night we're sitting there and just matter of fact way, I'm like, “Hey, what's that mark in the door?” Because there was like this silver dollar-sized impression that somebody carved into the door. And I'm sitting there thinking to myself like, “No, like he's not that stupid. He wouldn't do that.” And he's like, “I put it there,” and I'm like, “Jesus Christ.” I'm like, “Why?” And he's like, “I was bored.” Later on, he admitted that he was trying to make up peephole, the size of a silver dollar in the middle of the door. I guess he thought, you know, like the Star of David, they just wouldn't know what a peephole is either.
[00:56:38] So I started examining the door and I'm like, “All right, you know if you could do this with a spoon, we have something to work with here.” So it was just basically like your standard typical wood panel door. So over the next few days, I started stealing things from the bathroom and the first thing I grabbed was a three-inch flathead brass screw. And I smuggled it back to the cell and a few days later I'm washing my hands in the bathroom and what do I see? I see this flatiron bracket on the soap dish and I stick it in my sock and Theo starts bugging out. He says, ”Put it back, it's trapped, they're going to torture us. You're going to get us in trouble.” And I'm like, “Shut up, man.” And he's like, “No, put it back,” and like the door is closed and you can hear them coming and we're arguing. It's like that scene in a Breakfast Club where he steals the screw and, and they're all yelling at him to put it back. And I'm like, “Shut up.” And then finally the door just opens and it's Yassine, the guard that I was cool with. I was, “Hey, what’s up, Yassine.” I give him a bump and he takes us back to the cell. Theo is still flipping out. He's like, “They're going to figure it out.” And finally, to shut him up by saying on his shoulders and I hide it in the light fixture and they take some other prisoners to the bathroom, not too long after that. So we're pretty much in the clear.
[00:57:50] I take the bracket out when it's safe and we have a plan and my plan was this. The panels in the door are thin, like maybe a centimeter thick, the wood. So I put the screw at the top right corner of the bottom panel, which is about the length and width of a milk crate and the bracket fits right into the screw, like a screwdriver. And I put the screw in and out of the wood in less than five minutes, barely make a sound. Now, you have a real peephole. You can look through it and you can see who's out there by their shoes and a plan. And the plan is basically you just perforate all around this panel and you wait for an opportunity and then boom, you kick it out with one shot, minimal noise, and you go for it. And it was a great plan. Like I've talked to people in the military that train soldiers for these types of situations and they're like that was a brilliant plan but Theo was like, “Nope, I don't like that plan.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:44] Yeah, because, he didn't think of it.
Matthew Schrier: [00:58:46] Yeah, yeah, yeah. “I don't like that plan. I say we perforate around the doorknob and then we punch out the wood and we reached through and turn the key.” I'm like, “Dude, that's where the wood is solid. It's like three, four inches thick.” And I'm like, “We would need a drill to get through there and even if we had one, they're going to notice, you know, two or three dozen little holes surrounding the doorknob when they opened it up to feed us or take us to the bathroom. And he's like, “Then we're not going.” He's like, “It's always going to be your idea or nothing at all.” And I'm like, “Oh my god.” And I'm like, “All right, fine.” Because I wasn't thinking clearly, to be honest. I was just like, okay, he'll go back to my plan once he sees his is totally impossible. And I'm sure you can guess.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:28] Now his ego gets in the way and he's stubborn and he doesn't want to admit he's wrong, so you end up executing a really shitty plan.
Matthew Schrier: [00:59:33] No, no. What it really was is that he was too scared and he just wanted me to keep me busy by giving me some kind of impossible tasks.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:40] Oh no, it's even worse.
Matthew Schrier: [00:59:41] Yeah. Yeah. No that's that. That's what I figured out. You know, in the attempt that worked, because he did everything to thwart that too. He was just too scared to go, so he's like, “All right, I'll tell him to do something that's impossible to keep them busy and shut them up.” I'm sure you can guess, like, you know, you can't get the screw through three inches of wood with a bracket. You wouldn't even be able to do it with a screwdriver man. Every time you strip the screw it makes it click sound. And within like two hours of this genius plan, I try to turn this the bracket and it strips the screw and General Mohammad is right on the other side and he hears it and he's like, “Stop messing with the door.” So I obviously listened to him and I'm telling you within like three minutes, the door opens up and General Mohammad bust into the room with like two other guys and he slammed the door. He was examining it with a flashlight because the power was out. So he's examining it. Where does this flashlight fall, Jordan? Right on that silver dollar sign size impression that this guy made because I was staying along the steel plate that was around the door because I knew that the marks wouldn't be detectable there and we were making them for no reason. And as soon as he sees the impression, he turns around, he's like “Jumu’ah” and he calls me over and I kneel beside him. And now this is the first time I've ever seen him mad and there is no smile. There's just this darkness in his eyes. And he points to it. He's furious like he feels betrayed that after treating me so well, I would do something like this. I lift my hands up and I'm like, “Mohammad, that was already there. I was just like, I was cleaning my nails out on the door.” Because, you know, if I was doing that it would make a click sound, you know, and he just starts looking around on the floor and he's like looking for anything.
[01:01:41] And what does he find? He finds like this little piece of concrete that Theo put there because he'd like to kick it around the room like a five-year-old. And I told him to clean it up like a hundred times and he was always like, “Shut up. Mind your own business.” And Mohammad picks up this piece of concrete and just my luck. It fits perfectly into the impression that he made. And he grinds it back and forth. And then he looks at me and now he's furious. Even more furious because this is where he thinks I was doing. And I was like, “Mohammad, it wasn't me. I swear.” And then boom, he just throws the first punch. So I blocked it, be through another one. I blocked it. He kind of grazed me and then he stood and he just like smashes the concrete right down on my head, kicks me in my abdomen, turns his attention towards Theo. Grabs him by his collar, tosses him up against the back wall, and Theo just falls flat on his face and he starts shaking. That’s what he would do whenever they touched him. He fell flat on his face and started shaking. That was like his defense mechanism or lack of defense mechanism. Mohammad pulls out his Glock like he's just going to ice him right there. So I shook off the blow and I got up and I ran over and I'm like, “Mohammad, please don't do it. Don't kill him. I was just like, it was me. I made the noise.” And finally, he holsters the weapon and that's when he's like, “I'm going to come back in a half hour and I'm going to beat you and then I'm going to come back tonight. I'm going to beat you again.” And he said it in Arabic while looking at Theo and then he grabs our beds. He's like, “Take their beds.” So they take our beds and they leave. And I'm like, “What he’d say?” And Theo translates what he said. And I said, “Well, I don't mean to be a dick, but what about me is he going to beat me too?” Because he was looking at Theo when he said it and Theo was, “I don't know.” And I'm like, “Oh man.”
[01:03:24] Like a half hour goes by and a whole bunch of them assembling outside and the door opens and there's like eight of them there and they're just head to toe in black. You know, the same exact outfit as Jihadi John. The guy who cuts everyone's heads off, it's like they all have one and they come in, one of them comes in and he tells Theo to turn around, he cuffs him and brings him out of the room. They locked me in and within like two minutes you just hear him screaming his head off as you hear the whack, whack, whack sound and I'm pacing and pacing and I know I'm getting it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:59] What are they doing to him? Like what are they whacking? Like they’re whipping him or what?
Matthew Schrier: [01:04:02] I mean, you assume they're hitting the bottoms of their feet, but I've never actually seen it yet and I'm just pacing, pacing and waiting my turn. And you got to realize, dude, it always, it sucks so much more to go second because you got to like sit there and listen to what's about to happen to you rather than just getting it over with. So like five minutes of this goes by and then the door opens and they just throw them in the room and he hits the floor like a sack of flour and just blood streaks all over from his ankles. And they tell me to turn around and I'm like, “Oh man. So I turned around, they cuff me, pull my hat down and they bring me up to hall into the boiler room. And that's where they torture people. I mean, obviously, they choose it because it's just psychologically, you know, it's like a nightmare. That's why Freddy Krueger went down there, man. I mean, it's the boiler room and I ended the boiler room and I could see through the bottom of the cap and there's, it's packed with these guys. There are kids everywhere. There's a guy hanging from a pipe by handcuffs and they sit me down with my knees bent up to my chin and they force a car tire around your knees and they take up like an iron rod and they slide it over the tire, but under your knees and the crock and that locks, it locks it into place. And then they flip you over on your stomach. So you're cuffed and your feet are in the air and you can't move them. They take this thick cable. At first, I thought it was a nightstick cause right before they flipped me over, somebody put something under my chin and they lifted my head so I can look out from under my cap and make eye contact with him. And I thought it was a nightstick but it bent and it was what it was. It was a thick cable about as thick as a nightstick and that's what they use. They take this thick cable and they start wailing on the bottoms of your feet. Let me tell you something, it hurts, it freaking hurts. I got 115 clicks.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:01] You count?
Matthew Schrier: [01:06:01] No, the guy who was in charge, who I met like a week before, he was like above Mohammad. I call him the Buddha Man because of the way he lies on the floor like the Buddha and he said, “Give him 115,” and he made sure to say it in English. So I understood. They gave me the full 115. I didn't keep count, but they basically do it in sets. Like they take turns. Halfway through, they'll pour a bottle of water on your feet to enhance the pain. If they really don't like you, like Theo what they do is they lashed the sides of your ankles and that just bust them open. Like the skin comes off, like how the weed whacker to it. They didn't do that to me on this occasion. They just concentrated on the bottoms of my feet and it was like the longest five minutes of my life. At the end, they took off the tire and I was totally conscious, but I was just fainting on consciousness or semi on consciousness. I don't know, it was just an instinct and two guys lifted me up and I mean as soon as I put any weight on my feet, it felt like my knees buckled. My feet were numb, but they hurt at the same time. I don't know if that makes sense. It's like they're numb on the outside, but you feel the pain on the inside. They basically just supported me back to my cell and somebody opened the door and then through the hood, the guy looks at me and he goes, “Have you heard of Guantanamo Bay?” And then they just laid me down on the floor, very gently, took off the cuffs. And that was the beginning, the beginning of our punishment.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:35] You know what's interesting to me is I'm glad that we got to this point in the story, because before it's easy to be like, Oh, it's not that bad. Or like they're, you know, they're only doing this, you can rationalize it, but this goes hand in hand with the anecdote from the book where you were showing them photos of refugees in Syria, their own people that are like old women, children, people who are carrying their dead relatives and they're laughing about it. These are not like freedom fighters. Even all this Islamic BS if we want to create, again, this is just bullshit. These guys are just sociopathic assholes.
Matthew Schrier: [01:08:12] It's basically a criminal just like the Crips or the Bloods instead of having a blue flag or a red flag, they have a black flag and do it under the guise of Islam. I'm going to say that's how you look at it. That's how it is. It's a criminal organization and it's run like that. You know, Adan/Emir all the way down and that's it. It's like a lot of these guys, like I said, fought in Iraq. They came back from Iraq and they were thrown in jail. It doesn't matter where here, there you get radicalized, even more, radicalized and once this revolution took over these guys, they organized, hence, you know, organized crime. They did things to people that you wouldn't believe. I mean, they bit some guy's ear off. I never met him. Several other prisoners are like, “Did you see the guy who’s ear they bit off?” And I'm like, “No, but thanks for letting me know that they're doing that now.” I knew Mike Tyson converted. I didn't know he was here. There's like the bathroom trips where there's just like these giant pools of blood on the floor that they would leave there to the point where they would dry up basically.
[01:09:41] So back to the punishment for Theo's mark in the door. Hopefully, at the time, we're thinking all right, they're done. They got out of their system, but that's not how it happened. Within a half hour they came, they took me from the cell first and now I'm walking on these feet, these battered ruined feet and they bring me upstairs and outside for the first time in over a month. Now it's February 6th and it's pouring out. It feels like a horror movie when I wrote it in the book because it's like everything that you would see in a horror movie was actually going on. You got a boiler room, you got to a pouring rainstorm on barefoot and jihadis everywhere onto the teeth and they put me down on my knees and they were trying to make me think like they were going to execute me right there. So I'm just sitting on my knees and the rain is falling on my head and some guy walks up behind me. He's like locks and loads and I didn't say a word man, just like when they grabbed me, I just closed my eyes, and I didn't want to give them the satisfaction of begging because I knew it wouldn't do anything. I just waited and I waited and I waited and finally like some guy just bends my arm back and they picked me up and they put me in the trunk open SUV where Theo was and he's like, “Is that you? Is that you?” And I'm like, “Yeah, it's me.” And they cuff us together and a few minutes later the engine starts up and there's this song that they go nuts for. It's like this Jihadi Anthem where it starts out with a horse, you hear the horse clopping on concrete, and that the song starts and they start singing along and we start moving to that and the ride was like an hour.
[01:11:23] And after an hour we get to our destination, which is the Hraytan Electrical Institute, which is basically like the dark side of hell is how I describe it in the book. This is where Al-Qaeda takes you for punishment. And if you saw like a satellite image of this place, you would immediately realize that it's one of, if not the biggest Jihadi base in the world at the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:46] Do you find yourself now, or at least in the recent past going on Google maps and being like, “Where was I? Oh, I was in here. Like, looking around.
Matthew Schrier: [01:11:53] I mean, I have screenshots of all this stuff for when I do speaking engagements because I liked giving visuals. So I have pictures of everywhere that's possible. I have like right on my phone for presentations. I found this place within a week of coming home. Just to give people an idea, picture like if a terrorist group took over, like the University of Maryland or USC, like that's how big this place was. And they controlled the whole thing with ISIS. Only they were number one at the time. They were sharing with them, they didn't know that they were going to become more powerful. They take us out and they put us in this cell, this basement cell, this huge room. I call it the room of broken glass because there was this glass all over the floor from uh, the windows getting blown out and there's nothing on the floor except glass, like two blankets and a sheet of paper. So once it was safe and they were out of the room, I picked up the paper and I gave the Theo because he could read a little Arabic and I was just like, “What does this say?” He read it and he's just like, “I can just read one, one thing. It says Hraytan Police Station.” So that's how we knew what town we were in. So after I got home I found Hraytan on Google maps and literally I found it before I was done zooming in, like while I was doing out on the town. I show it, that's how big this place was.
[01:13:17] We stay in this room for five nights. Every night, this guy comes in, Igor was his nickname and he whips us on the back with this thin cord and he pulls down the blankets because he's not one of the dumb ones who do it over the blankets. He pulls the blankets down. I'm telling you I was wearing a vest, like an Eddie Bauer vest, a hoodie, and a t-shirt. And he whipped me so hard. The next morning I took off my shirt to hunt for bedbugs and there was just blood speckled all over the back of my t-shirt. I didn't even feel it the night before. Finally on the fifth night, one of the dudes comes downstairs, one of the punks and he's like, we're moving you to another building, cover your eyes, grab your blankets. So we'd go upstairs and outside and we couldn't see it cause it was dark and we're blindfolded. So he let us take off our blindfolds cause we were dropping stuff and we walk outside. And that's when I saw it for the first time. And I couldn't believe my eyes. I mean, there wasn't a light on, there wasn't a soul in sight. It looked like an abandoned city, but you know, it's not. In the 20 or 30 seconds, I had to scan it before he made me cover my eyes. I looked for a landmark that I knew I'd be able to identify with satellites. And I saw this really 60, 70-foot tall concrete tower that was totally round and I filed it. After I came home and I went on Google maps, that's how I found this place and sent it to the FBI and everything.
[01:14:40] From there he takes us to a new building and we go up to the second floor. So now we're in a cell that's not in a basement for the first time and it's like this little tiny room custom made for human suffering. I mean, the light is ripped out, the floor is filthy. The window, they concreted over it. Somebody took concrete and wrote “ghost” on the wall in English. This is where we really suffered. This was the worst month of my life, the worst part of my captivity. We were barely fed. We were just giving enough to sustain life and not get too sick, infested with bedbugs while in the dark. So you can't even take off your clothes to delouses. People don't realize like if you have bedbugs and you don't delouse, you will die. They drink blood. Eventually, they're going to drink you to death. They were blasting loud music outside our door for hours on end. One night management came by and it was this really creepy night. We heard him coming and you can always tell when it's somebody important as opposed to like just the guards and they opened the door and they have a conversation and it ends with moswer. That means photographer in Arabic. They're talking about me and then they launched into another conversation, ends with CIA and that means you're talking about Theo because they were convinced that Theo was a CIA agent because he spoke Arabic and they're like, “CIA, Yala,” and he gets up and he walks out of the room and he just starts screaming his head off. This was the scariest moment of my life because I again, I was just like, “Great, I'm going second again, man.” I was like, what are they doing to him? “ You just hear him screaming and “Okay, CIA, CIA.” And then as soon as he confessed, they stopped. They brought him over and I'm praying the whole time, please keep him safe and don't pull me maybe next, please. Saying that over and over again.
[01:16:34] They opened the door and they throw him in and he lands on my leg and it freaking hurt. You know, 150 pounds just crashing down on my leg and they slammed the door and spared me. So my prayers were answered that night. And he was just like a mess. He's like panting on me. I'm like, “Are you all right?” And he's like, “Don't move.” He's just like, “Don't move.” And I'm like, “All right, all right.” And I'm like, “What'd they do to you man? Did they give you the tire?” He's like, “No, they didn't have one. So they threw a rope up over a pipe and they strung me up by my ankles and started whacking my feet like that.” And I can't even imagine what that must have been like. Just in the dark with the flashlights swirling around your head and all of these freaking maniacs. I mean I can't even imagine. Nothing even happened to me and that was like the scariest moment of my life so I can't even imagine what happened to him psychologically.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:32] I'm wondering, I know you, you've got beat a lot. There were a lot of other interesting characters from the book and Theo just gets worse and worse and worse. At what point did you come up with a plan to like fake convert to Islam to get out to Curry favor? How did that come about?
Matthew Schrier: [01:17:50] That was after the Moroccan got introduced. Basically the electrical institute, we were there for 40 days and they transfer us back to the hospital and everything goes back to normal for like two days. Theo's like broken by now. He's just like hiding under the covers all day. He never comes out from under the covers, which is a real morale killer. And two days after they bring us to the hospital, the door opens one night in this big dude hobbles in and he's hopping on one leg and he's big. He's like six, three, like 230 pounds. And he's a Moroccan. And as soon as he enters a cell, they lock him in. And I'm like, I walk up, I introduced myself and he speaks perfect English and he's like, “You're American.” I'm like, “Yeah.” So he sits down and we started having a conversation and as soon as I tell him that, “I'm a photographer.” He looks at me and he's like, “You were tortured.” And I was like, “How'd you know?” And he's like, “I was there.” I was like, “You were there.” He's like, “After they shot me,” because they shot him in the leg when they arrested him. They cuffed him to the bed and wheeled him into the torture room for a week, which I can't even imagine. I mean, imagine being cuffed to a bed in a room where they're torturing people all day, every day for a week. And he's like, I heard you screaming “Ana moswer,” which means I'm a photographer. So I got along with this guy at first, which is, which is really hard to believe because he was one of them, but he was too crazy to be accepted by them and plus he was a liar.
[01:19:20] Another part of the story where people are just like, you can't make this shit up because he basically went over there pretending to be a doctor and was treating people. And it's funny because at one point I was like, “Did you ever see the movie Catch Me If You Can?” And he's like, “I love that movie.” And I'm like, “Oh my god.” He literally was doing what that guy did and he was brilliant. Like, don't get me wrong. Like he wasn't an idiot. This guy spoke English, Arabic, French, and Italian fluently. He was smart. He got in with doctors without borders. He was like a professional conman this guy. It just stopped short when he tried to do it to a terrorist group. I got along with him at first, like he loved the American movies, he loved rap music. He even loved Curb Your Enthusiasm, which really threw me off because I'm wondering if that's why they shot him. Two weeks with this guy, he was always like, “You should convert, you guys should convert.” And I was just like, “No, no, no.” Because you don't want to do it. You don't want to jump in because you don't want him to know you're faking it. So like two weeks in he brought that up and I was like, “All right.” I was like, “It feels like God is in the room whenever you are praying.” I was like, “I'm down man, let's do it.” So he's like, “All right.” He tells me what to say. I say it and he's like, “All right, welcome to the club.” And I'm like, “That's it.” And he's like, “Yep, you're a Muslim, pick your name.” And I'm like, “I get to pick my name.” And he's like, “Yeah. This is a very important part of the process. What is your name going to be?” So I was like, I was like, “Nassir.” And he's like, “Why?” And I was like, after a great man, I met in Aleppo, Sheikh Abu Nassir. But that was just bullshit. The truth is I'm a Naz fan and I just thought I'd named myself after somebody would sit that sins with every syllable that comes out of his mouth. And he's like, yeah, great. And I was like, yeah. So from that point on, he called Nassir. The guards always call me Jumu’ah.
[01:21:14] The funny part of this aspect of the story is that Theo refused to convert. He's like, “I'm not doing it. It's the principle of it”. And I'm like, “Who cares? Like none of this is real. What are you talking about? This is a fantasy land. Let’s you were Muslim in this environment, there’s no different than telling your kid that there is a Santa. I mean who gives a damn.” He's just like, “I'm not doing it. And I was just like, all right, whatever.” And after I got home, I had discovered the reason why he wouldn't convert to Islam was because he already converted to Islam. Years earlier, he got the idea that to make a name for himself as a journalist because he spoke Arabic, he was going to move to Yemen. Then conversion to Islam so we can infiltrate the mosques and madrassas and spy on these people and then go home and write a book bragging about it and that's what he did. He called the book Undercover Muslim.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:09] He's so lucky. They did not find this stuff.
Matthew Schrier: [01:22:13] And he never told me about it. He let me convert knowing that if they figured out who he was, they were going to accuse me of doing the same thing and make me suffer for months. I mean, forget what you see in the movies, it's not going to be like they towards you for a few hours day. You're going to torture you for months before cutting my head off to make an example out of me. And he never told me about it because all he cared about was keeping himself safe. To go back to what you said he's so lucky. The reason why they didn't find out who he was because that's, he changed his name. That's why he had two names. After he wrote this book, he had to change his name to avoid being killed and you know, and he still had a Facebook profile page with that name. So if they put that name in and figured out who he was, the first thing that came up was a picture of him standing under a portrait of Bashar al-Assad. The second thing was a picture of his book under a quote that says, "I love Iran.” Another one of their enemies.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:12].Yeah, their favorite people. This guy's such an idiot. And he screwed up a lot of escape plans. Did you ever think of killing him? I think I would have maybe either tried or been like, “Hey, you all should kill this guy. He's trying to escape.” Like I know that sounds callous. I'm not trying to be, I'm not proud of this.
Matthew Schrier: [01:23:30] No. Jordan, the thing about it is that it's practical like light. It's funny because I'm like ashamed to say that I didn't think of it because it makes me feel stupid because, you know, I think anybody with training would have done that because he ceases to be an American once he starts siding with Al-Qaeda against me, which is what he did, which is what he did. I'll be honest with you, the thought never crossed my mind to kill him or get rid of him or leave him behind and there are three reasons why. One is I love our country and I'm proud to be an American, as cheesy as that sounds. I wanted to uphold our values and we don't leave our people behind. I didn't want to be known as the guy who left him behind. That was like the main reason. The second reason was I wanted him to be held accountable for all the stuff that he was doing that we haven't gotten into. Like, he started siding with the Moroccans, setting me up to be tortured, doing all this horrible stuff and I wanted him to be held accountable for that. And third was he has a mother who's like 80 years old who never did anything to me and she does not deserve to see her only son get his head cut off.
[01:24:45] So because of those things, I felt like I had an obligation to do my best to bring them home no matter how bad he got, no matter how, how much of a problem he was, I always just wanted to get the two of us out. He fought me every step of the way. That's why only one of us ended up escaping.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:25:10] I want to hear how this, you had an escape plan. It gets botched. He decides he's going to basically rat you out and then you decide that rightfully so, that you have to make him so miserable that he doesn't want to be in the cell with you anymore. Then you find another plan. So tell me about your final escape here.
Matthew Schrier: [01:25:33] All right, well I don't want to describe the escape because it's the best part of the book.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:25:36] Okay, fair enough. That's fair.
Matthew Schrier: [01:25:39] But I'll describe basically part of what you asked for. I figured out a way to escape obviously and he was the biggest problem when it came to doing it because it didn't work out the first time and as soon as it didn't work out he was like, “All right I'm out.” I was just like, “Okay fine, I'll do it by myself. And I go in the bathroom to get the bucket because I had to stand on a bucket because we were in a basement cell and he says, “If you touch that window, I'm going to knock on the door and I'm going to tell on you.” And I just like, my heart sank and I was just like, “You're going to rat me out to Al-Qaeda.” I was like, “What kind of an American are you? What are you going to tell people when you go home?” And he's like, “I'm going to tell them my side.” And I'm like, “Which is?” And he's like, “You're endangering my life.” And I'm like, “I'm trying to save your life.” And he's like, “That's not how I see it.” And I was just like, “You know what F you,” and I take a step towards the window and he turned around and he knocked on the door and he knocked loud. This is like an iron door, so when you knock on it, it echoes and he knocked on it loud a bunch of times. I just froze and I'm just going to hit him with a bucket.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:26:50] Yeah, I would have killed him, I would have killed him right there.
Matthew Schrier: [01:26:53] That's the closest, that's the closest I came to just like completely finishing him off and I controlled myself. I pulled back and I was like, “No, no, no. You've got to get them back on board. You've got to do this together. You got to get him on board.” And so how do you get a guy with no street smarts, no common sense, no guts, and no balls to agree to break out of a secret Syrian terrorist prison? Conclusion—you make him so miserable. He'd rather dive and spend another minute in that room with you. And that's what I did. And it took about three hours.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:27:26] You can be really annoying obviously when you need to be.
Matthew Schrier: [01:27:29] Yeah, you lock me in a room at you. It doesn't matter who you are even if you'd be the Dalai Lama. I can make you pissed off in three hours and he just couldn't take it after three hours. He's like, “Okay, okay,” but he wouldn't follow any of my plans. He agreed to do it, but it was like, he was like, “I'm going to do it my way. You do your thing your way.” I'm like trying to explain to him all these things that he has to do. Like, “In order to get out you have to go with two arms.” And he's like, ”I'm not doing that.” And I'm like, “You're not going to fit otherwise.” And he's like, “No, I'm not going to do that.” And I was like, “You have to do.” He's like, “I don't have to. I used to go spelunking.” And I'm like, “What the fuck is spelunking?” And he's like, “It's caving. I know how to contort my body.” And I was just like, “What are you out of your mind? We're trying to escape from a terrorist prison here. We have more to worry about getting our arms around between a rock and a hard place for 127 hours.” And he's like, “Well, I never saw that movie.” And I was just like, “Ahhhh!”
[01:28:28] I mean, I am under enough pressure as is in this moment. You've got to realize I'm the one who is planning out the entire escape. I'm the one who is staying awake and monitoring everything while he sleeps on the floor with his hands down his pants. I'm the one who has to go first because there are snipers on the roof across the street. And it's my plan, so if anyone gets shot, it's going to be me and he has no problem agreeing to that part. He's just adding to the problems and fighting me on everything and it's just got to the point where I gave up trying to get through to him and I said, “All right, you do it your way. I'll do it my way.” And I got out, he didn't. And the rest you're going to have to read the book to see because it is one of the most intense chapters that you will ever read because—
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:19] Yeah, it was a good culmination to the story. And if people are like, “Wow, you're really callous.” Theo like you said, he doesn't make it out but he doesn't die there. He ends up getting let out later. You sent me an interesting piece of news where he basically goes on Al Jazeera and starts smack-talking the people that paid his ransom.
Matthew Schrier: [01:29:39] Yup.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:40] And I'm just like, this guy absolutely has no principles at all, who did everything because he was so stubborn and principled has absolutely no principles whatsoever. He just does not care.
Matthew Schrier: [01:29:52] And it's worse. No, it wasn't Al Jazeera. It was Al Arabiya. Because Qatar, the country of Qatar paid his ransom and they own Al Jazeera. Their enemy is Saudi Arabia. So he went on Saudi Arabia's main news outlet and bashed the people who paid his ransom and said they only did it because they want to use me to finance terrorism. And that just gives you a window into his character because he's making them out to be the bad guy. He makes me out to be the bad guy. I can't believe this is a real quote that a man would actually say but he says that I was like the abusive husband and he was the battered wife, something like that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:30:33] Unbelievable! He's just a complete piece of crap.
Matthew Schrier: [01:30:36] And that was the Moroccan, the Moroccan treated him like that. But at the same time, you got to understand he's friends with our kidnappers on Facebook.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:30:45] How is that even—I don't even want to get into that. That's just so ridiculous.
Matthew Schrier: [01:30:50] He's friends with them on Facebook. He sent out a tweet, the guy that sold him, the number two of Al-Qaeda in Syria, Qahtani. He said that, “He's my homie.“ The guys who tortured him and kept him and sold him are basically the good guys and I'm the bad guy. And the people who paid his ransom are the bad guy. Even though technically speaking, yeah, they paid his ransom because they do finance terrorist Qatar, we all know that. But I wouldn't care who paid my ransom. You know what I mean? Hitler can come back to life and pay my ransom. I'd probably wouldn't say anything bad about him after that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:31:30] Is it Stockholm syndrome or is he just like, “I'll do anything for attention. I don't give a crap.”
Matthew Schrier: [01:31:00] I think it's that I want attention and he had this sick desire to be accepted by these people before this. For all I know he was trying to be undercover Muslim in Al-Qaeda and that's how he got the part of the story that he left out. I mean he has no loyalty. He has no loyalty, anyone or any country. And he just basically wants attention and he'll say anything to anyone that will give him a microphone.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:32:08] Do you regret going to Syria?
Matthew Schrier: [01:32:10] No.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:32:11] Why?
Matthew Schrier: [01:32:13] I mean, the soldiers who I get locked in a room with for five days, you know, I get locked in a room with them again for a month and a half. They were like my family and they were the best friends I ever had. Now, that the story's over and I got home safely, I wouldn't change anything because that means I would never have gotten to know these guys. And out of the 18 of them, only five have come home. So 13 of them most probably have been killed. This book even though it's not in Arabic or anything, it's just like it's a testament to the fact that they were once alive. And anyone who reads the book, it doesn't matter if you're in the US military because a lot of soldiers read my book, you will love these guys. They're just the best. For that reason and the reason that I get to give speeches to our soldiers and our Marines, that's just such an amazing feeling. I've always supported the military, but when the military actually supports you in that kind of personal way, it's extremely rewarding and humbling.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:33:21] I know you're speaking a lot to the military. What were some of the intelligence-gathering techniques that you used when you got locked up that sort of ended up helping later on? When I was locked up in the hospital, the windows were brand new and it was obvious that they had just been replaced and they all had manufacturers labels on them. So I did a pull up on the pipe and I memorize the serial number and the manufacturer and I gave that information to the FBI so they can hack into the company system and find out who paid for it and is funding these guys where it was delivered and who it was delivered to, which is extremely important. Financing is the heart of these organizations. So that was one thing. When I mentioned with spotting landmarks and then using satellites to identify him, I did that very successfully. Just developing friendships like with the soldiers who would send me videos of some of the guys giving interviews on Al Jazeera under false names or other Arab stations. So, there were a lot of things that I did in regard to that off the top of my head. A lot of other smaller things that I probably haven't thought up in a long time.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:34:37] Do you think you'll ever see some of the guys that did make it out of the prison? You think you'll ever see it again?
Matthew Schrier: [01:34:41] I hope so. You know, it's kind of a mess over there. The way things are going in the regime will be back in control within the next, who knows? I mean, it's funny because now that ISIS is gone, you got to realize the guys that held me, they control all of Idlib province pretty much. There's a force to be reckoned with and it's going to take a serious battle to get rid of them.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:35:06] Well, it's a great story. That book was really interesting as well and there's a lot of little details in there. Of course, we didn't get to nearly everything today even though we went really long on the show here because there are just so many details with like the personalities of the people in the cells and the different transfers and the escape, the final escape attempts, and everything. It's just such a crazy mess over there. What are you going to do now besides speaking? Do you have like recurring nightmares about this? Like do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and you wonder, am I in a basement in Syria or you’ve gone over that?
Matthew Schrier: [01:35:39] Never, never.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:35:41] That’s good.
Matthew Schrier: [01:35:42] I have more aggravation about the stuff that's going to happen since I've been home in regards to dealing with the FBI and movie producers who basically all want to just screw me over as if I'm stupid and I'm just going to give them everything for free. And you know, making me famous is like a paycheck and I don't think so. You know, it's business and you know, it's just one producer after another, insulting my intelligence.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:36:11] What's going on with the FBI?
Matthew Schrier: [01:36:13] FBI, nothing now. I mean, since we started fighting, but basically, while I was in captivity, there was a Canadian cell within this organization who came in and took all my personal information, my financial information, and they stole over $17,000 from me and wire transfers through eBay and amazon.com and iTunes and whatnot. And the FBI let them do it. They were monitoring the whole situation. This has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt through Citibank and they let them steal all the money because they were buying laptops and tablets and they were obviously putting software and GPS in the laptops or whatever and then delivering them right into the hands of Al-Qaeda and infiltrating the enemy in a way that they probably never had before. In the process, they basically hung me out to dry because that information was worth more than my life and statistically speaking, I was never coming home anyway because nobody has ever escaped from these guys and we don't pay ransoms.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:37:17] Oh right. So you're thinking FBI went, “Well, he's as good as dead, he's not going to need the money. We might as well follow the money.”
Matthew Schrier: [01:37:23] Yup, let's capitalize. And that's the thing about the FBI, they don't seem to get points for saving good guys. It seems like they only get points for killing bad guys and it's really disheartening because I came home and I did everything I could to help them with the investigation because I thought they were on my side. In the book, you'll see that I basically gave them the information to bring Theo home that I kept my word. He never obviously acknowledges this publicly and the FBI never acknowledges it publicly. Over time the more difficult my life got because of them, that's when I started investigating everything that happened. Then I found emails to my mom for six months and telling her that I was okay.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:38:10] From the FBI?
Matthew Schrier: [01:38:12] Yeah, from the FBI agent Lindsey Perotti to my mother telling her that everything seems that Matt's the one using his bank accounts and his cell phone.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:38:20] That's insane. So she's lying to your mom telling her that you're fine because she doesn't want to compromise her investigation.
Matthew Schrier: [01:38:27] Operation. It's not in the investigation. It's an operation now.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:38:30] I see. So they're modifying the laptops, I assume that they had ordered and then putting in data siphons and stuff and backdoor firmware.
Matthew Schrier: [01:38:40] Yeah. And this FBI agent is so freaking stupid. She's documenting it in emails because she's so certain, I'm never coming home and my mom's an old lady, so she's not going to figure it out. And she's documenting this whole thing. I mean like, dude, there are emails from Citibank saying she never froze your bank account. We did. And then there's an email from her saying, yeah, I froze your bank account. I mean, it's just astonishing. You got to realize like an operation like this is big and it's expensive. You're talking about the FBI, the CIA, the NSA. You're talking about the NGA, the National Geospatial Agency who controls our satellites, the state department in America, in Turkey, in Syria, in Canada. This is three continents. This is something that was sanctioned way up top by Robert Mueller of all people who was the head of the FBI at the time. So, there was no way that, uh, that, that the top of the top didn't sanction this. Because of that, they will not investigate any of this. They sent me a letter like three or four years after I started making complaints saying we're not going to investigate it. Your claims are whatever, BS and there was a signature on it that you can't read.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:40:07] Right. Of course. Like I don't want this coming back to land on my desk, so I'm just going to scribble something on it.
Matthew Schrier: [01:40:11] Yeah, yeah. It was complete nonsense and it just shows you how high up it goes. Because this FBI agent, like her career, is over because of this. I did an interview on Fox. They had her name, her face up. She'll never have a major case again. But if they fire her or admit that they take her off the case, that's like an admission of guilt and she'll throw them under the bus if she does that. So they're in a position where they have to back this dirty agent no matter what. You basically have Robert Mueller and then James Comey took over from Mueller. That's why when I talk about this, people think like, “Oh, he's like this crazy right-wing guy.” Hell no, I'm not this crazy right-wing guy. I'm an independent who embarrassed to say voted for Obama twice because you know all this happened under his administration so I feel betrayed. But I mean this isn't an issue of right versus left. This is an issue of right versus wrong and that's really all I'm interested in. I'm not political, the book is not political and I never will be.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:41:12] What do you think the ideal outcome, not ideal—What do you think the government should have done? Because I get not wanting to pay ransoms for terrorists and stuff like that because it does feel the trade of hostages and all that. What do you think they should have done? Like even this agent, she sounds like a knucklehead, but if I put myself in her shoes, I think she did the wrong thing and it was immoral, especially the lying to your mom. But I also get her being like, “Look, we don't even know if this guy is around anymore. We can at least track these guys and maybe saved some other people's lives.” I'm guessing that's how she rationalized it. You know?
Matthew Schrier: [01:41:45] You're right. No, you're right. I'm totally open to it. I'm a very rational person. Obviously, what they did with the laptops, I would've done if I was an agent. My problem is these laptops were delivered to addresses in Southern Turkey and two tablets in Canada under the terrorist’s real name. Now, why weren't the doors to these locations kicked in? Why did they not wait for somebody to come out and grab them so they can get information to find out if I'm alive where I am. I mean, these were major leads to, you know what was supposed to be an investigation to help bring me home and they did nothing. What they did was they use the laptops to spy on them and through that, they probably knew that I was alive. They knew who these Canadians were. Like, I said, he mailed one of two tablets himself under his real name in Ontario I believe. I have the receipt.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:42:43] Oh, wow. So you know who this guy is now? You know who he is?
Matthew Schrier: [01:42:47] His name is Hemrick Feat. Okay. His name is Hemrick Feat and he lives in Canada today a free man.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:42:54] I can't even believe it. What the hell?
Matthew Schrier: [01:42:56] Well, if they arrest him, what does that do? That creates a huge spotlight on this case, so the FBI who went through all this trouble, don't lock this guy up, is now letting him go because they don't want a spotlight on this case. Two of them that interrogated me are in custody for the past five or six years and they were going to indict them, but once I started fighting with them, they didn't have a witness anymore because I was more against the agent than I was them. Them, I understand what they did and why they did it and I can respect it without respecting them. You know what I mean? They're my enemy. It's their job to do that. Her, she's supposed to be on my side and she's stabbing me in the back. That's worse. So then my anger started shifted to her, to the one lying to my mother using me to boost her career. So you have all these guys in custody, all these Canadians and none of them are ever going to be indicted because of all the shit she did to lock them up. The one in Canada, he’s free. He's living a free life. Another one, dude, this is the best part --you're going to love this-- took a selfie with Justin Trudeau and put it up on Facebook as his profile picture. It was all over the Canadian press because obviously I gave the CBC the information and Trudeau just look like the biggest jackass.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:44:25] Like, “Hey, you took a selfie with a guy who helped Al-Qaeda kidnap in American. Oops.”
Matthew Schrier: [01:44:30] Yeah. And it's a big close up. I can send it to you and that guy's free. They're all free. And you've got to realize like his house was raided. I was flown out by the RCMP and I gave them a huge interview after the selfie happened because they were in big trouble with the press. They basically have these guys in an ironclad case. They raided their houses and they have devices bought with my money in custody. They have a recording of one of them admitting they played it for me. He says Matt Schrier that was me while speaking on the phone, they played it for me a confession and they will not arrest anyone.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:45:20] Oh man, I'm like hoping that they've got some other sort of plan, but I've don't think that probably do.
Matthew Schrier: [01:45:26] I’ve been home for six years. It's safe to assume nothing is ever going to happen. Everyone got off Scot-Free in the FBI and Al-Qaeda. They’re both guilty of serious shit and they're all getting away with it to cover up for this dirty agent.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:45:45] It's so crazy. This is so crazy, man. Do you ever look these guys up on Facebook and you're just like I just want to see what you're doing because I would fantasize about going up there and like—
Matthew Schrier: [01:45:00] I have that I've fantasized about because like what would they do if I went up there and just beat the shit out of him? Like what are you going to do? Okay. All right, you'll arrest me, but then what are you going to do? Because the media is going to be all over it. The RCMP said they were like, this is going to be the biggest terrorism case in Canadian history and they were so excited about busting these guys. Like, they said, there are 150 people working on this case for the past three years and that was years ago when I went there two years ago. Dude, that's tens of millions of dollars invested in this case. Like you've got to think of it like 10 stars spent, what? $39 million investigating a blow job. Imagine how much between America and Canada. I bet you're talking about over $100 million way.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:46:45] Why couldn't Canada independently do something about this?
Matthew Schrier: [01:46:49] Because the FBI controls them. I mean, give me a break.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:46:51] Nothing’s going to cooperate with any of that stuff.
Matthew Schrier: [01:46:55] They're like the FBI's lapdog I mean the FBI feeds them so much information about threats that come to them. And there was a spy a couple of years ago for Russia and the FBI gave them the information, so they can basically nab the guy who was in their Navy. I mean, the FBI, they have their tentacles and everything. Nobody has the guts to stand up to them except, you know, the guy who was held to by Al-Qaeda for seven months. But as far as getting anything actually done, I mean, you need political backing and this is just one thing that nobody wants to get their hands dirty with. The only person that had the guts to tell this story was Catherine Herridge and her producer Pam Browne who did a phenomenal job on Fox, but because it was on Fox, everybody looked at it as it being political and they didn't tell it in a political way. They told it straight up the way it was and he did a phenomenal job doing it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:47:50] This is such an interesting story. Gosh, so crazy. The book, of course, we'll link in the show notes, man. Thank you very much for coming on the show and being so open about all this.
Matthew Schrier: [01:47:58] Hey, anytime, man. It's a great conversation. I never got interviewed by a fellow kidnapee before.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:48:04] That's right, yeah, pretty rare, pretty rare opportunity for me.
Matthew Schrier: [01:48:07] So, if we ever grab a drink, you could give me the details on your dirty little experiences.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:48:12] Yeah, man, you got it. Great big thank you to Matt Schrier. The book is called The Dawn Prayer or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison and it's not really hyperbole. This book was an interesting read. It just really didn't want to be in that same situation as him. This book will make you think twice about adventure travel. Not that I was planning to go to Syria anytime soon, but man, this just really, this story was really harrowing and the guy he was with made me want to murder him, seriously.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:48:42] Oh, that guy, I mean, seriously, I don't know how that guy is still alive. If I was Matthew, I would have hunted this guy down and made sure that he had a horrible end.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:48:53] He's the most annoying person. Yeah. Even in interviews, now you see him, he's so punchy—you know what a punchable faces. It's just that guy, this guy is the punchable face, embodied. He’s a terrible person.
[01:49:04] If you want to know how we managed to book all of these great people and manage our relationships using systems and tiny habits to generate great guests for the show, create opportunities in business and in life. I mean, this is not some sort of vague skill set. It's all about connections and relationships and managing them and reaching out to those people that you need to get to the next level. I've got a course about this that's free. Six-Minute Networking. Go to jordanharbinger.com/course and don't wait. Don't do it later. You're like, Jordan, you always tell me this and I've got to do it. I hear this in my inbox every day. Oh, finally. Yeah, I might as well go do it. I hear you harp about it. Go freaking do it. It takes six minutes a day. I'm so annoyed. I'm annoyed at people I don't even know. Go to jordanharbinger.com/course and try it. I promise you. Just do the first drill and you'll Oh, okay. I get it. This is easy and it really works. jordanharbinger.com/course. Speaking of building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway here from Matthew Schrier. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.
[01:49:59] This show is produced in association with PodcastOne and this episode was co-produced by Jason “Making A Break For It” DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger. Show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, and I'm your host Jordan harbinger. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful that should be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love and even those you don't. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:50:27] I recently participated in doing some voiceover for a show called Pessimists Archive, and like if you want to be successful, you need to embrace change. The world changes, your job changes, everything changes, accept it and move forward or resist it and fall behind. This podcast Pessimists Archive is a history show about why people resist new things. In each episode, the show looks at the moment something new was introduced, something that today we take for granted, like coffee, chess, the novel, the bicycle, the elevator. And I think I was in the elevator episode. It tries to understand why everyone freaked out and resisted them. When you listen to stories like this, it makes you realize just how futile it is to resist change today. When you look back at historical changes that now seem inevitable or obvious, and that's the point of the show, by looking backwards, it shows us a way forward. Check it out. The podcast is called Pessimists Archive.
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