Vienna: An Austrian man held hostage for five months in Yemen said he was kept in permanent darkness in a room too small to stand up in and was forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint.

At one point, Dominik Neubaur told Austrian magazine News, he was taken out for what he thought would be his execution — but believed he was spared after he recited verses from the Quran.

“I heard a weapon being loaded and felt its muzzle on the back of my head,” he said his first interview since his release a week ago.

Neubaur, a 26-year-old student of Arabic, and the Finns were kidnapped by tribesmen in Sanaa on December 21, and were later sold to Al Qaida, according to the Yemeni government. The three were freed on May 9.

The Austrian said he did not know how his release had come about. Both Austria and Finland have denied paying a ransom.

Austrian media has however claimed that Oman, which negotiated the release, paid close to $50 million in ransom. Omani authorities have not commented on the matter.

The three hostages disappeared from view after their capture until a video appeared on YouTube in February in which Neubaur, with a rifle pointed at his head, said he would be killed if ransom money were not paid to a Yemeni tribe within a week.

Neubaur said he believed he was taken out to be killed when that deadline expired, but the kidnappers did not go through with it.

He said he and the Finns were separated in March.

During his captivity, Neubaur said he was given dirty water to drink and little more than rice to eat, and his hands and feet were bound with cables.

“It was a tiny room, divided by bedsheets. The Finns were in one corner and I was in the other. In between, I saw, was our guard - armed,” he said.

Neubaur said the kidnap, which took place in an electronics store, appeared to have been unplanned.

He said the kidnappers’ car was so small that one had to sit on Neubuar’s lap, holding a weapon to his head, and said they had brought nothing with them to tie up the captives or blindfold them.