FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) – An American photojournalist kidnapped during Syria’s civil war accused an overseas bank of funding his captors in a federal lawsuit filed Monday evening.
Photographer Matthew Schrier claims the Qatar Islamic Bank allowed individuals and a charity to funnel money to terrorist groups fighting in Syria.
In 2012, fighters with the Nusra Front, a Syrian group connected to Al-Qaeda, snatched Schrier as he tried to cross the Syrian border into Turkey.
In the 60-page federal complaint filed in Florida, Schrier details his capture and the ensuing 211 days of torture.
“The [Nusra] Front subjected Mr. Schrier to horrific conditions and extreme psychological and physical abuse,” the complaint states. “He was beaten and tortured on at least 10 occasions, often by teams of terrorists, threatened multiple times with summary execution, and forced to observe and hear the torture of other prisoners.”
“He was deprived of water and food, held in rooms that were freezing cold or boiling hot, without light or ventilation, and denied access to bathrooms for days at a time,” the complaint adds.
Qatar Islamic Bank could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night.
According to the complaint, Schrier was moved several times between bases and prisons. For a short time, the Nusra Front handed him over to an allied Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham.
Schrier says the groups insisted he was a CIA agent. At times, the fighters beat him with a garden hose or a black cable. They also took his debit and credit cards, racking up thousands of dollars. At one point, he says, they considered forcing him to drive an explosive-laden truck into one of their targets.
“He often thought he was going to die in captivity, or wished for death, and described reaching ‘a place beyond depression,'” the complaint states.
In July 2013, Schrier escaped his captors by squeezing through a small window in his cell. He’s credited as being the first Westerner to escape from al-Qaeda.
Schrier says the Qatar Islamic Bank directly contributed to Qatar Charity, an organization that allegedly funded Al-Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham.
He also claims the bank allowed a Qatari citizen to use his accounts to solicit money for “Madid Ahl al-Sham,” a fundraising campaign that the U.S. State Department said funneled money to extremist groups in Syria, including the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham.
Schrier seeks unspecified damages under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows any U.S. citizen injured by international terrorism to sue in federal court.
Injured veterans and families of those killed by terrorists are increasingly using the law to sue banks, multinational companies and even countries, including Iran. In 2016, Congress passed legislation that extended liability to those who provide “substantial assistance, or who conspires with the person who committed such act of international terrorism.”
Last month, nearly 400 people filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C., against several companies accused of making protection payments to the Taliban that allowed for continued attacks against Americans.
Schrier wrote a book about his kidnapping experience called “The Dawn Prayer (Or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison): A memoir.” In 2018, National Geographic profiled him as part of the network’s “Locked Up Abroad” series.
Schrier is represented by John Couriel of the law firm Kobre & Kim.