Nancy Curtis found out her son was missing while she was trying to help him choose a wood stove for their house in Vermont. She and her son, a freelance reporter in Turkey trying to get into Syria for a few days, had a daily email exchange—“do we want the Defiant or do we want the whatever, and what color do we want?” she recalled. “And all of a sudden I didn’t hear from him.”
It was October 2012, and Padnos was traveling into Syria with two or three men he thought were fixers with the Free Syrian Army. Padnos had extensive experience in the region, having lived in Yemen for two years and written a book on Islam. His traveling companions were friendly; he spent the night in an abandoned house with them before interviewing them in the morning. “After about 15 minutes I ran out of questions,” he recalled at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday. “And I turned to them—there was three of them sitting in front of me, like this—I said ok ... I’m done with my questions. And they stood up and came at me. … Handcuffs, and they tied up my legs, and they said ‘We’re from the al-Qaeda organization, didn’t you know?’ And that’s how it began for me.”
“What was going through your mind?” The Atlantic’s James Bennet asked him.