A Former ISIS Captive Disagrees With The President On A Strategy To Destroy Them

December 8th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

A French journalist held hostage by the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (IS) said that air strikes, a central tenet of the current military strategy for combating them, were "a trap" for countries involved.

In an interview with the Syria Campaign, an advocacy group focused on supporting Syrians affected by violence, Nicolas Henin said strikes could further jeopardize a practical solution for defeating the terrorist group. The video interview gained traction online following its release last week.

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"Strikes on ISIS are a trap," he said. "The winner of this war will not be the party that has the newest, the most expensive or the most sophisticated weaponry, but the party that manages to win over the people on its side." 

Henin, a freelance journalist, said that the largely positive response to the refugee crisis in Europe—which saw millions of Muslims fleeing an rigid and perverted interpretation of Islam in IS territory to Western nations—was more of a "blow to ISIS" than bombing might be. Targeted air strikes by Western countries, he explained, could further push people to side with the extremists. 

“As soon as the people have hope in the political solution, then Islamic State will just collapse," he said. "It will have no ground any more. It will collapse."

Henin's message was released the same day the British Parliament voted to join in with coalition air strikes against IS targets, but also the same day a California town was the host to a deadly mass shooting whose perpetrators were inspired by the extremist group. 


The comments came just days before President Barack Obama's speech Sunday night, in which he doubled down on the strategy in Syria, saying it would destroy the terrorist group. Last week, IS praised the attack in San Bernardino that left 14 dead, and claimed the killers as followers of the group. Though the attack was called an act of terror by federal officials, it was not directly linked to the group. 

Air strikes have garnered criticism before for being a potentially divisive strategy in a region already fractured by competing allegiances. Following the Paris attacks in November, Henin penned an op-ed in the Guardian in which he worried that French bombardment of the IS stronghold of Raqqa would "make a bad situation worse," noting the 500,000 civilians trapped in the city, and the possibility that casualties could serve as a radicalization tool—and ultimately play into IS' hands. 

"The priority must be to protect these people, not to take more bombs to Syria," he wrote.

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In last week's interview, Henin echoed his calls for an international no-fly zone over IS territory to ensure security for civilians there, a tool, he said, that would eventually destabilize IS. 

"Providing security for people [there] would be devastating for Isis," he said. “Why are we making so many mistakes? Why are people so much misunderstanding the region? We are just fueling our enemies, and fueling the misery, the disaster for the local people.”