British journalist James Brandon told today of terrifying beatings and mock executions at the hands of kidnappers in Iraq.
Mr Brandon, 23, says his captors took it in turns to put unloaded pistols to his head and pull the trigger while he was blindfolded.
Despite repeatedly telling them he was a journalist, the “unreasoning mob” of about 30 men, who abducted him from the Diafa Hotel hotel in Basra on Thursday, accused him of being a spy working for the CIA.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Brandon, from London, described the most horrifying part of his 20-hour ordeal as being “like a bad film”.
He said: “All I could feel was the cold steel of the muzzle of one of my abductors’ pistols being pressed to my temple. Then came a chilling silence…broken only, seconds later, by the terrifying metallic click of the trigger being pulled.”
Later, the barefooted reporter made a break for freedom from a holding house, after loosening his blindfold and untying rope around his hands and feet.
But he was soon tracked down in a nearby government building by his enraged captors who retaliated by beating him and giving him a black eye.
He was driven around the city to a deserted building where they filmed a video message, threatening to kill him if US troops did not stop fighting in the holy city of Najaf.
Realising the video would be aired worldwide, he said his first thought was what his family in London would be going through.
He added: “Your brain works in mysterious ways. I began planning to ask my kidnappers whether I could be shot rather than beheaded because it would be a quicker, less messy death.”
After that his treatment improved, he said. He was taken to another safe house where he was untied, given water and allowed to sleep before being granted his freedom on Friday afternoon.
It is believed he was freed following the intervention of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Shortly after al-Sadr condemned the kidnapping, Mr Brandon was taken to the cleric’s local offices in Basra.
Mr Brandon spent his first day of freedom at a British base in Basra.
Reflecting on his experience, Mr Brandon insisted the kidnapping had not put him off working as a journalist in Iraq.
But he added that he was looking forward to being reunited with his mother Hilary and sisters Catherine, 20, and Laura, 16.
The reporter, who speaks some Arabic, is thought to have travelled to Basra from Baghdad on Wednesday.
He had arrived in the country to join the Baghdad Bulletin, a now defunct independent magazine set up in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein.
During his 10 months in Iraq he had worked for newspapers including the Scotsman, the Independent and the Sunday Telegraph.