In 2004, Roy Hallums was abducted in Iraq and held hostage by insurgents for 311 days.
The American contractor was ambushed at his company’s compound in Baghdad by the Mujahideen Army, made up primarily of former intelligence officers under Saddam Hussein’s administration. Although he was moved around, Hallums spent most of his captivity imprisoned in an underground cell in Al-Mahmoudiyah, about 15 miles outside of Baghdad.
Hallums was working for the Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Company when he was taken by insurgents. The company was involved in building projects in Iraq and had food service contracts with the U.S. military.
Hallums, who was 56 when he was abducted, describes his experience in his new book, “Buried Alive.” He told CNN that his situation was excruciating. Temperatures soared to 120 degrees and every single day of his captivity he lived in fear that his captors would execute him.
“A doctor told me a human system is built to be terrified for an instant and then run away from the bear, not to live with the bear wondering, ‘When is the bear going to eat me?’, which is the situation I was in for so long,” Hallums told CNN’s Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware.
Over the course of nearly one year in captivity, Hallums was beaten, interrogated, bound and blind-folded. But the most terrifying might have been the final few months, when he was – literally – buried alive.
The insurgents holding him, concerned that U.S. troops investigating his kidnapping were closing in, gave him meager rations, and cemented over the underground cell where he been locked. They disappeared and returned days later, smashed through the cement, replaced his rations and repeated the process.
“You’re buried in there, and if these people are really nervous, then why come back to the house,” Hallums said. “You’re sealed in, you’re not going anywhere and if they decide, ‘Well it’s just too dangerous to go back to the house’, and they never come back, then you’re in your tomb.”
Hallums was rescued by U.S. Special Forces on September 7, 2005. After searching for Hallums for much of his captivity, investigators obtained his exact location from an Iraqi suspect and immediately orchestrated a morning mission. With four helicopters and a predator drone and F-15 jet high overhead, U.S. troops swooped down to the house where he was being held, broke through the cement in the floor and ended Hallums 311-day imprisonment.
“I heard Special Forces pounding on this little door in the room where I was, and the guy jumps down in there and says, ‘You alright?’ It’s like, well, this can’t really be happening, you know, because after all this time, they actually found where I was, which was a miracle,” Hallums said.
Ware himself was kidnapped in Iraq in 2004. He was documenting the rise of al Qaeda and its leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and was ripped out of his vehicle by the terrorist group and threatened with execution. He spoke with Anderson Cooper in 2007 about narrowly escaping death.
“These men intercepted my vehicle and with grenades, with the pins pulled so that they were live, hauled me from the car, and with my own video camera, they were preparing to film my execution. So as far as we're aware, after that day on Haifa Street, I'm the only Westerner that we know of who's been in the control of Zarqawi's organization, al Qaeda, and to have lived to tell the tale,” Ware said.
“I was in a vehicle with a mid-ranking Iraqi insurgent commander who'd told me of Zarqawi's takeover, essentially complained about it .. so he took me in there to show me that these radicals, these foreign Islamists, have taken our territory. When the foreign radical Islamists, essentially who became al Qaeda, dragged me from the car, this man was left to negotiate for my life. “
Ware’s captors returned him to Iraqi insurgents later that day and he was able to escape. Although estimates vary, more than 500 foreigners are said to have been kidnapped in Iraq and the number of Iraqis held hostage is in the tens of thousands.
Learn more about the experiences of both Hallums and Ware tonight.
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