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Former Al-Nusra Hostage Talks About Capture; Iran's Relations with West Under Scrutiny; Sports Outperforming Politics

Aired October 6, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET



[14:00:15] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, inside the minds of the al-Nusra front. One man's harrowing account of kidnap and torture in



THEO PADNOS, JOURNALIST HELD HOSTAGE BY AL-NUSRA: They believe that I was a vanguard agent of a coming American invasion. And they are going to

punish me in order to discourage the rest.


AMANPOUR: Plus, Iran sweeping up dual nationals into prison while trying to re-establish diplomatic and business ties with the world. I speak to

the Iranian Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Aleppo could be destroyed within months. The U.N.-

Syria envoy said today as he pleaded with Russia and the Assad regime to stop bombing the besieged city.


STAFFAN DE MISTURA, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR SYRIA: We are in emergency mode. Let's be frank. Regarding Syria, regarding Aleppo, about the future

of this conflict.


AMANPOUR: With the U.S. and Russia no longer negotiating a ceasefire, French diplomats stepped in. Submitting a draft resolution to the Security

Council and the foreign minister flying off to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart.

Reporting from Syria is too dangerous for most journalists today. But in the first years of the conflict, many tried including Theo Padnos. In

October 2012, he was immediately captured by al Nusra. Held for nearly two years. This is what his captors told him after one attempt to escape.


PADNOS: You are a traitor. You are lying Zionist American and I will kill you with my own hand.

We made a video right then.

I have three days to live. Three days. And if you don't do anything, I'm finished. I'm dead. They will kill me.

NANCY CURTIS, MOTHER OF THEO PADNOS: I tried not to contemplate what could happen. What's the point of thinking that your son might die?

AMANPOUR: Theo Padnos was luckily freed in 2014 and he has made a documentary which is out tomorrow about his ordeal. He told me that

harrowing story when he joined me from New York.


AMANPOUR: Theo Padnos, welcome to the program.

PADNOS: Thank you very much for having me.

AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you about your mother. You described later in the film how she often came to you in your dreams. Obviously, she

worked tirelessly for your release. What was it like, you know, missing your mother, wanting to be with your mother in captivity?

PADNOS: I mean I -- I had disappointed my mom. I was aware that I had, I wouldn't say ruined her life. But maybe, you know, I really did. And I

wanted to apologize to her and I wanted to talk to her. And after a while, I knew that she had forgiven me for putting her through this and she was --

and in a way she was with me in the cell.

I knew she was undergoing different kind of torture, and so -- and I regretted putting her through this. And I was just in constant

communication with her. And, you know, when I got back, I was able to speak to the families of some of the other hostages. And I told them

listen your kids are talking to you and, you know, they're with you and it's so important that, you know, that your presence is important in their

lives. I told them that. I mean, I hope it helped them a little bit.

AMANPOUR: I'm sure that was great comfort to them to know that. But you did in the film re-enact what you went through and what your captors put

you through. We're going to play a little clip of your film.


PADNOS: They brought up Hiroshima in the first five minutes. What did you do to the Japanese?

Oh my God, I wasn't alive. I'm sorry.

They're pouring water over me. This is Guantanamo, Guantanamo. Guantanamo, Guantanamo.

And then they had these cables, steel cables and they're whack, whack, with the cables, whack against my hands, against my head. I'm like bleeding all

down my head.

Whack, whack.


AMANPOUR: I find that really staggering, because obviously they had such a hatred of America and they were taking it out certainly on anybody they

could find from America.

Is that what you found? What do you believe their motivation for taking you was?

PADNOS: I mean in this instance, I think they believe that I was a vanguard agent of a coming American invasion, and they were going to punish

me in order to discourage the rest.

It was starting slowly and they were going to catch the first people and, you know, deliver a lesson and send it back to America. Don't come.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, because just this week, I've talked to Sulome Anderson. She is the daughter of the longest-ever hostage, Terry Anderson.

And she went back and found her father's captors and they explained in very great political detail what those '80s kidnappings were about.

And she said she couldn't imagine what ISIS' motivation or Jabhat al- Nusra's motivation was, because it's so heartless. It's the beheadings, it's the cruelty that didn't exist to that extent in the Hezbollah

kidnappings of the `80s.

PADNOS: What is happening on the ground in many places in Syria, all the Jabhat al-Nusra lands, all the ISIS's lands, even in the south under Islam,

it's a single phenomenon that goes under different names. And you know, it's very anti-western. It is very anti-American.

AMANPOUR: But also we've heard so many of the captives who have been released and others who describe many of their captors as not being in the

slightest bit religious. And you are reporting really interestingly --

PADNOS: That's a mistake.

AMANPOUR: Well, hold on a second, because you -- let me -- well, let me explore that with you. Because you say, you know, that their favorite

topic was western girlfriends when they came and talk to you.

You know, the guards spent the first ten minutes trying to get me to accept Islam. Then they gave up. Then they asked if I could introduce them to

single women from a western country. So at the very least these were mixed up people. Not exactly devoutly religious people.

PADNOS: No. They can be very, very devout. You know, 80, 90 percent of the day, and the other remaining minutes, they are interested in making

contact with western women. This is not an uncommon phenomenon.

You know, you can love God deeply and serve him for, you know, many hours in the day, and then you make a few mistakes. That's how they explain it

to themselves.

You know, listen, I can't be -- I'm a human being. I can't be pure 100 percent of the time. I'm sorry. I'll apologize later. For now, let me

chat with your girlfriend.

AMANPOUR: Even an infidel?

PADNOS: I mean, particularly an infidel. That's what they're interested in.

AMANPOUR: At one point, your captors showed you the video of the gruesome execution of Jim Foley.

What was the impact on you?

PADNOS: I mean, I was terrified. I was shocked. I was horrified. You know, I was aware that the people around me were capable of doing loathsome

horrible things.

Of course, the people who tortured me for the most part, the actual people carrying the electricity and the cables and the sticks and the rebar, those

were 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds, 15-year-olds. It was young people that were basically good kids. But they needed to be warriors. They needed to

be brought out of their normal like obedient kind of cooperative selves and given aggression and hostility towards the enemy.

They said this person is the enemy, hit him. They would be like, should I? And the commander is like, hit him. Do it.

AMANPOUR: Wow, that is chilling.

PADNOS: That's the worst, yes. Yes, it's frightening, isn't it?

AMANPOUR: How do you think your story, Theo, ended differently today? Why is it that the U.S., you know, didn't negotiate for Foley. Didn't allow

the family to raise money? And yet -- obviously, either turn a blind eye or encourage or whatever, but the Qataris were able to work their magic and

get you out.

PADNOS: The reason why this happen was because the Qataris had good relations with certain people who happen to be in Jabhat -- or around

Jabhat al-Nusra at the time. It was a matter of luck.

AMANPOUR: You don't think it was a matter that the U.S. administration was horrified by what happened to Jim Foley, and maybe decided to turn a blind

eye to get you out?

PADNOS: Yes. They -- all this infrastructure was in place. And the U.S. was aware of it. But they have a policy that says no matter what, we can

make no concessions to terrorists under any circumstances, even if the person is being tortured or rape as in the case of Kayla Mueller.

We won't do anything to help you. That's our official policy. But at a certain point, the Qataris said, listen, you know, we could probably get

this guy out like this and the U.S. government said, OK, go ahead.

AMANPOUR: Really fascinating one. It's a really interesting film. We're glad you're out to tell your story.

PADNOS: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Theo Padnos, thank you so much for joining me.

PADNOS: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And now to Syria's famed White Helmets. Those volunteers putting their lives on the line to save others. Their center in Damascus

has been destroyed. And some injuries among the volunteers have been reported.

They've been a lonely source of help and hope for the many trying to survive the war zones. The White Helmets are acclaimed the world over for

their work.

A documentary has been made about their courage and compassion, and they are front-runners for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, which is to be

announced tomorrow.

When we come back, I speak to a top Iranian official next on a visit to Berlin to drum up new business as the nuclear deal opens up new

opportunities. That's after this.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Since signing the nuclear deal with the United States and world powers last year, western tourists have flooded into Iran and businesses shut out under

the decade of tough sanctions are eager to invest now that the country is laying out the welcome mat again.

But it is not all plain sailing as hard-line factions continue vital support for Syria's Bashar Al Assad. And a judicial dragnet is sweeping up

many dual-national citizens, including a charity worker, a former U.N. official, an expat businessman who returned to their homeland.

Hardliners oppose President Rouhani's nuclear deal and opening up to the West. And with the Republican nominee for U.S. president also wanting to

rip up that deal, I spoke to Masoumeh Ebtekar, the vice president of Iran who was in Berlin today.


AMANPOUR: Vice President Ebtekar, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Let me start by asking you the mood on the street, the mood in Iran in the year or so since the nuclear deal has been signed with the U.S.

and the international community.

Is it being implemented in a way that, that President Rouhani can show people that it's having the beneficial effects that he promised them?

EBTEKAR: Well, there's been a lot in terms of the different economic measures that the government has taken. Particularly during the past three

years. People have seen a lot of improvements. For example, take the inflation rate, which was above 40 percent. But now it's -- we have a

single-digit inflation rate in Iran.

But in terms of implementing the nuclear deal, I think Iran has done its share. And the expectations are still high and we expect to see more done

on the other side because there's so much enthusiasm.

For example, here in Berlin, I've been meeting with different representatives of different corporations, and they're so interested in

working with Iran, investing in Iran.

Some of them have already been in Iran. They'd like to come back. But there seem to be some delays, particularly in the banking system. And we

expect, and I think that that's a general expectations in Iran, that those hurdles in the banking system are quickly removed. Because these delays

are not helping the deal. And the deal is, it's a partnership and all the different partners, they have to play their role.

We played our role. We played our share. And we have complied fully to the terms of the agreement. And we expect that all the partners involved

also comply.


EBTEKAR: That the deal is operational, and particularly the issue of the banking system. And the opportunities that we have in business. For

example, for the environment. It's really important for us, for them to come and invest in water and energy and new energies in green technologies.

So we look forward.


AMANPOUR: So, obviously --

EBTEKAR: And I think the general expectation is high.

AMANPOUR: Yes. You're laying out the shop there for your, you know, your international partners. And I understand many people are very eager to

come there.

[14:15:00] But can I ask you this? Because there has been a fierce fight- back, political push-back in Iran amongst those very powerful people, who did not approve of the deal and who don't want to see President Rouhani


And people were afraid that that would compromise his chances for re- election.

How serious is that threat to him? And how helpful is it that the supreme leader has said that the former President Ahmadinejad is not welcome to be

a candidate in the future and should not present himself in the future?

EBTEKAR: Well, as you know, on the nuclear deal, there was a general consensus in the country. There have been certain groups who have

criticized the government. The government has its opponents on this issue. But I think that there still is a well-organized support, both in the

parliament, the government, the leader on pushing forward, on implementing the deal properly.

So this is, this is I think an important issue. And President Rouhani has been able to deliver on many of the promises that he's given. It's been a

very difficult three years and we've had many challenges in some areas, we haven't been able to achieve. Maybe the targets, but in many areas we

have, the government has been able to achieve and President Rouhani has been successful.

And I think that this is well seen. It's well appreciated among the people. And also, well, this recent development I think it, it indicates

the insight of the supreme leader. His views on the former president, his presence in the political scene are very, very close to the realities that

we have herein Iran.

AMANPOUR: All right, that's a diplomatic way of saying, that's very helpful to President Rouhani's re-election.

But I want to ask you this, because this is a major issue for many internationals who are trying to come through. And that is the arrest and

imprisonment of dual nationals.

Obviously, Iran doesn't recognize dual nationals. But there are plenty of Iranian -- British Iranian, U.S., people who are being arrested and thrown

into jail. Iran is holding a large number of foreigners, including Baquer Namazi, who is a former UNICEF official and his son and as we known Nazanin

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is an employee of the Thompson Reuters Foundation. She's recently been sentenced to five years in a closed-door process.

I mean, you know, in beggars belief. Here in the rest of the world, we can't understand why you're doing that. How that helps Iran. Surely, they

can't all be guilty of the kind of crimes that you accuse them of.

EBTEKAR: Well, you know, I'm part of the government, what is being done there is part -- what you just explained is part of the judicial processes.

The judiciary is independent. And they have their own processes and those processes are based upon the law.

And President Rouhani has done his best in terms of opening the social and political atmosphere in Iran. And as you know, the current situation, the

current conditions in Iran are much better than what was before. And we hope that all those issues will also be resolved.

AMANPOUR: But, I mean, here we have Nazanin -- you know, the picture of her with her little daughter, the child is in Iran, the husband is here

desperate. She works for a foundation that does good works in the world.

You must accept that these activities do not make it attractive for people who want to come back and help Iran, or help do business, or help in any

other way.

I'm sure that you know, Miss Amanpour, we have our challenges, just as you have your challenges in the U.S., just as European countries they have

their challenges in dealing with these types of issues, with opposition groups, with those who intent to voice their opposition. In many

instances, you know how they're dealt with in the United States. So we all have these challenges. And we're working to improve these conditions.

The government of Dr. Rouhani has done a lot to improve these conditions. We now have a very vocal civil society in Iran, who are working in

different issues, in terms of women's rights, environmental issues and they are very, very active and they are very vocal and their voices are now

heard so things are changing and improving.

We also hope that they change and improve for the better in other societies, in other countries. And I hope that this, there's no double

standards in dealing with these issues. Because we have these challenges everywhere around the world. And we all have to work to improve these

conditions and to provide conditions for more democracy, more openness, more tolerance.

[14:20:15] AMANPOUR: You've just renegotiate and reestablished political ties with Britain, and Britain has been forced to warn its citizens against

traveling to Iran.

Surely this kind of activity, arresting people like this, is not helpful. A for them, but for you in terms of attracting foreign investors and the

kind of businesses and tourists who you want.

EBTEKAR: I think that that's not the whole picture. I think that you're emphasizing uncertain issues which are very important. They shouldn't be

overlooked. But they're not the whole picture.

The whole picture is that we just came to Berlin via flight from Tehran through Vienna, and the flight was full of tourists. Tourists are very,

very interested in coming to Iran

The hotels in Iran are already booked for six months. There's a lot of enthusiasm on the business sector. I've been visiting Paris. I've been to

Vienna. I've been to Helsinki. I've been to many, many capitals, European capitals where both the people, the tourists, but also the business sector

are very, very interested in dealing with Iran and working with Iran. Because they understand that Iran is an island of civility. They

understand that the government of Iran is working to promote moderation, to promote better relations with the world. They understand that Iran is now

an opportunity. And we have to take this opportunity for granted.

We also have our challenges. We have our problems just like the British do, just like the Americans do. I'm sure that if we take a closer look at

some of the policies in those countries, we'll find similar problems, similar issues and sometimes even at a large scale. Some of the support

provided to certain governments, to in terms of the interference, the militarism, the adventures in this region. I think that we should take

this holistic approach and see Iran as a reality that it is today.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Vice President Ebtekar, thank you very much for joining us from Berlin.

EBTEKAR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And there's a little bit more of that interview online, particularly about Iran's struggle with climate change and the drought


And now to Europe where it seems parliaments have lost the plot.

The Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg getting caught out today playing Pokemon Go on her cell phone. Apparently, bored by some parliamentary

procedure there.

While at the heart of the European government in Strasbourg, a fight broke out between members of the hard-line UK independence party. It resulted in

one of their MEPs, Steven Woolfe, collapsing and getting rushed to hospital. He reportedly was punched in the face. But it's not exactly

clear why. He's apparently regained consciousness, and says he feels better.

Next up, a break from the political and a look to the more positive. How sport is giving Kosovo a leg up on the world stage. That's next.


[14:25:30] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where 90 minutes on football pitch can leave a bigger mark than years in politics. Because

tonight Kosovo makes its debut in the World Cup with a qualifier for the 2018 championship against Croatia just 8 years since winning its


Thousands have been killed and 90 percent of Kosovo's population was displaced in the war between 1998 and 1999. But Kosovo has risen up the

sporting ranks in record time. Capturing its first Olympic gold at this summer's Rio Games. That was in Judo.

However, tonight, the team is on home soil. Well, kind of. The match-up is a home game. But it's taking place in neighboring Albania. Because

Kosovo's own stadiums are not ready for kick-off.

The speaker of the Kosovo parliament has promised 100,000 euros to each player if the team qualifies for the World Cup. While the president tells

CNN, the whole country could reap the benefits of the successful World Cup. Quote "Sport is opening doors for further success in politics through

giving a positive image of Kosovo. In sport, we're moving much quickly, much more quicker than we are in politics."

So let's hope for their sake their players move fast and qualify tonight.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.