When Jolly Bimbachi of Chatham, Ont., travelled to Lebanon last November to try to bring her two sons, Ahmad, 8, and Abdal-Geniy Ahmad, 7, back to Canada and failed, Sean Moore deeply moved.
Bimbachi’s ex-husband, Ali Ahmad, had refused to return the boys following a 2015 visit and negotiations in the custody battle were deadlocked.
Hearing of her plight through media reports, Moore, a fellow Chatham resident, decided to try to help, contacting Bimbachi to say he was flying to Jordan and would be willing to speak to her husband.
But Moore’s journey–spurred by the very best of intentions–turned into a living hell–for him and Bimbachi.
“One of the issues I have, especially in the Middle East, is women are treated not even like second-class citizens. Most of them can’t even make a decision, they’re not allowed to,” Moore told CBC News.
“I thought I’m going to be there, how easy is it for a man to talk to a man and say ‘Do the right thing’?”
Moore met with the Bimbachi’s former husband, but after negotiations went nowhere, he and Bimbachi decided to smuggle the children out of Lebanon and back to Canada through Syria and Turkey.
All four were captured by al-Qaeda forces and shuttled to safe houses before about 20 men came to a safe-house door and took him away to what he describes as an “al-Qaeda prison.”
For almost a month, Moore says, he heard screams and smacking sounds all around him–sounds of prisoners being tortured with straps–and soon he, too, was being subjected to similar treatment.
“They have have different styles of straps,” Moore told the CBC.
“I had thicker straps, I believe. I don’t know if they had a schedule or they were bored, they would pull me out of the cell, blindfold me and they would strap my back and my front and my legs and the bottoms of my feet.”
Moore says his cell was often flooded with water and he suffered torture akin to waterboarding.
“When they would put the scarf around they would sometimes splash the water in….it was difficult to get a breath. They would just laugh like it was funny, he says.
“They continually wanted me to confess to being a spy. I’m not a spy. I’m a humanitarian.”
Eventually, Moore and Bimbachi were released. Both returned to Canada this week.
The two boys remain in Lebanon.
With files from CBC, BBC