A Syrian activist who became the face of the "White Helmet" civilian rescue force operating on the battlefields of Syria was killed by an airstrike on Thursday.
Khaled Omar Harah, a painter and decorator before conflict erupted in 2011, was a member of the Syria Civil Defence, a group of nearly 3,000 volunteers who rush to the scene of airstrikes and dig through the rubble to search for survivors.
He was killed in the Ramosa neighborhood of Aleppo on Thursday, an area which has been the scene of heavy fighting and bombardment by Syrian government forces and Russian jets.
In the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where emergency services are virtually non-existent, the group has saved thousands of lives. Their work is often described as “the most dangerous job in the world.”
Harah, who was 31 when he died, became the public face for the group after he was filmed pulling a 10-day-old baby named Mahmoud from the rubble of a three-story home that was hit by a barrel bomb dropped by Syrian government forces. The "miracle baby" video was watched hundreds of thousands of times online.
He traveled to the US from Aleppo to lobby senators and congressmen to intervene and stop the bombing of civilians in Syria. The video was shown to members of the UN Security Council in an effort to spur more urgent action on Syria, to no avail.
Harah had been digging for nine hours on the day of the rescue, according to an interview he gave afterward. He was lying down, exhausted, when he heard a baby crying from beneath the rubble.
“I thought I was being delusional because I was so tired,” he told Vocativ. “I asked my friend, ‘Will you listen? Put your ear here and try to hear. I think I hear a baby’s voice.’ He said, ‘Yes, it is!’”
After 30 minutes of frantically grabbing at concrete and metal, baby Mahmoud was pulled from the darkness, dusty and crying.
Khaled holding 'miracle baby'. He died a hero. pic.twitter.com/UNV1AHU9Y0— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) August 11, 2016
Anna Nolan, director of the Syria Campaign advocacy group, which announced the death, described Harah as a “hero of humanity.”
“Khaled joined the White Helmets in the early days, since then he has responded to hundreds of attacks, and each time he made the same choice — to run towards bombs knowing he could be killed,” she wrote in a statement.
On Thursday, Harah became the 132nd White Helmet to be killed in the line of duty. He leaves behind a wife and two young girls.