Syria

Syrian shock campaign mimics IS videos – using children

Frustrated by what they see as total indifference from the media, Syrian opposition activists in Douma staged a scene mirroring the grisly death of the Jordanian pilot burned alive by militants of the Islamic State jihadist group. The chilling photo shows children dressed in oversized orange jumpsuits, squeezed together in a cage, with a burning torch in the foreground.

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Frustrated by what they see as total indifference from the media, Syrian opposition activists in Douma staged a scene mirroring the grisly death of the Jordanian pilot burned alive by militants of the Islamic State jihadist group. The chilling photo shows children dressed in oversized orange jumpsuits, squeezed together in a cage, with a burning torch in the foreground.

 

This scene was staged by activists in Douma. Photo by activist Boura Aberrahmane

Douma is a northeastern suburb of Damascus that has long been a stronghold of Syrian rebels. In August 2013, the Syrian regime carried out a chemical attack on Douma using sarin gas.

Armed rebel groups, especially the salafist Jaish Al-Islam (The Army of Islam), still control the city, which has been under siege from the Syrian army for the past two years. In the past month, the Syrian regime has intensified its campaign of air strikes — including shelling, mortar fire and missiles. In the first 10 days of February alone, 183 residents died, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Fifty-five of the dead were women and children.

On February 5, Douma was hit more than 60 times, resulting in the deaths of 66 people. The government air strikes were reportedly launched in response to rockets that Army of Islam fighters had fired on Damascus, killing 10 people. It’s a neverending cycle of violence: the rebel-launched rockets were themselves a response to previous government air strikes that had killed up to 40 civilians.

Boura Aberrahmane filmed this video after yet another round of airstrikes pummeled Douma.

Gaining control of Douma would be a strategic win for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because it would enable him to cut off the supply line to rebels entrenched in the Qalamoun mountains who launch frequent strikes on Damascus.

"Douma’s children are burnt to death in air strikes, and no one seems to care"

Boura Aberrahmane, an activist and citizen journalist in Douma, is distressed by the lack of international reaction to the scores of civilian deaths in Douma.

 

The horrific images of IS militants burning the captive Jordanian pilot were shared all over the world. The international community was horrified. And yet, despite the fact that the situation in Douma is incredibly serious, no one seems shocked by it. Douma is under siege from the forces of the regime. No one can enter or exit the town. Every day, we are subjected to air strikes. I have witnessed dozens of massacres in these past few months.

Hundreds of children have died here, including my daughter, who was only 1 year old. Some of these children were burned alive, but no one seems to care. And to think that the UN special envoy to Syria recently said that [President] Bashar al-Assad, the perpetrator of these war crimes, must be “part of the solution”…

The protests were staged to demand better living conditions in Douma. Photo: Boura Aberrahmane

In order to raise awareness about what is going on in Douma, I — along with the group of activists that I am part of — decided to create a macabre scene replicating the immolation of the Jordanian pilot. We gathered bright orange clothing meant to evoke the bright orange jumpsuits worn by IS prisoners in all the IS propaganda videos. A tailor then helped us by cutting down these pieces of clothing to child size. Next, we set up a cage in a very symbolic place — next to several buildings that had recently collapsed after being hit during air strikes. Some of the bodies of civilians are still trapped in the wreckage.

Most of the children who agreed to participate were 8 or 9 years old. The littlest ones were intimidated by the cage that we had built. Some were frightened but they still wanted to stay. I asked one of the little girls what she was thinking. She told me that she wanted the entire world to know that Bashar al-Assad’s regime isn’t any better than the IS organisation and that he is responsible for burning, killing and bombing civilian areas.

In the video, the children walk into the cage while singing "Bashar burns our homes and schools."

The children went along with it all and they are willing to participate in other initiatives. I think they also found in it a space to express themselves.

The fundamental rights of these children are compromised in this besieged city. We are trying to organise classes for the kids in the basements of buildings. They do little jobs to help their families get by, like selling candy in the street. But all of that stopped when the air strikes started up again.”

Article written with FRANCE 24 journalist Dorothée Myriam Kellou. All of the photos were posted on this website.

 

Article written with FRANCE 24 journalist Dorothée Myriam Kellou. All of the photos were posted on this website.