Conflict & Justice

Photographer who took Omran's picture in Aleppo: 'I hope all photos of children and attacks in Syria go viral'


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Five-year-old Syrian Omran Daqneesh sits in the seat of an ambulence after an airstrike blew up his family's home in eastern Aleppo, Syria, in a photo taken by activist Mahmoud Raslan.


Courtesy of Aleppo Media Center

The photographer who captured the haunting image of an injured 5-year-old Syrian boy that are shocking the world says he was in tears when he took the photo.

His video footage and pictures taken Wednesday show young Omran Daqneesh, sitting covered in dust with a streak of blood on one side of his face following an airstrike on his home in eastern Aleppo. It's been seen by millions on TV and the internet, providing a glimpse of the devastating bombardment of the city.

In a message released by the Syria Campaign, a pro-opposition advocacy group with a network of contacts in Syria, photographer and media activist Mahmoud Raslan says he hopes “all photos of children and attacks in Syria go viral" to raise global awareness of daily life there. Civilians in Aleppo and other areas suffer continued attacks as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including the Russian government, battle with various anti-Assad rebel groups.

“The tears started to drop as I took the photo,” Raslan added. “I have cried many times while filming traumatized children. I always cry. We war photographers always cry. Last night everyone cried.”

Omran was rushed to hospital with his parents and three siblings. His 10-year-old brother Ali died from his wounds. The rest were all discharged without serious injury. The family has refused to speak to the media for fear of reprisal from the Syrian government.

This is Raslan’s account of what happened:

I live just 300 meters from the attack. Just after 7 pm following the evening prayers we heard the explosions. I rushed there with other three media activists.

The first thing I saw was three bodies on the ground being carried into an ambulance. Those were the neighbors of Omran’s family. The building was totally destroyed — all six floors were now rubble.

The site of the airstrike where Omran Daqneesh got injured in the al-Qaterji neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria photographed on Aug. 18. The Daqneesh family lived in the building on the left.

Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Then I looked up to see another building half destroyed — Omran’s house. The White Helmet rescue workers climbed the stairs of a building nearby by as the stairs at Omran’s house were destroyed. I joined into to help.

The first survivor they picked up was Omran and I took my camera and started filming. I found out later he was just 4 years old. 

[Later, doctors said Omran's actual age is 5.]

It was too dark for good footage but I continued and followed him. The White Helmet carried the boy to the ambulance and laid him on the chair. I kept filming. It is then that I realized how traumatized the boy was and I changed the camera from filming to take a still picture.

The tears started to drop as I took the photo. It is not the first time I’ve cried. I have cried many times while filming traumatized children. I always cry. We war photographers always cry. Last night everyone cried.

Omran’s affected me because he was silent. He didn’t cry. He didn’t say a word. He was shocked.

I thought of my 7-days-old baby girl. I thought to myself, it could be her. It could be any child in Aleppo or Syria.

Then the White Helmets team continued to rescue the family members. Omar’s eldest sister, who is 11, looked at me and said please don't film. I turned of my camera and told her “sure my darling, I will not.”

Read more: This man was the public face of emergency volunteers in Syria. An Aleppo airstrike killed him.

Thank God all Omran’s family are safe. His mother had some bad injuries in her legs. His father suffered a minor head injury. His 7-year-old sister went through a surgical operation this afternoon and she is doing well. 

[On Saturday, PRI learned that Omran's older brother, 10-year-old Ali, died from wounds he sustained in the airstrike.]

Today when I woke up to see the whole world using the photo and talking about it. I thought to myself, I hope all photos of children and attacks in Syria go viral so the world know what is life like here.

If people knew what it was like maybe the war will stop the bombing will stop.

Maybe Omran and my daughter Amal can live normally like all children in the world.