A new video featuring Syrian kid Omran Daqneesh, whose blood-soaked face had become an iconic symbol of the Syrian suffering, has surfaced where the child and his father appear in a footage posted by mostly pro-Syrian government news outlets. Dressed in blue and white checkered shirt, a healthier Omran can be seen running around happily in what seems to be his house.
Omran’s image was flashed across television screens and shared on social media in August last year when an airstrike in Aleppo damaged his house. He was seen sitting in an ambulance with a blank look, wiping off the dust and blood from his face. Omran’s 10-year-old brother, Ali, had died in the incident. But it was Omran’s haunting image that triggered a public outcry as people and various rights organisations highlighted how the Syrian war affected the country’s children.
In the latest footage, Omran’s father, Mohamad Kheir Daqneesh, said he had “cut his son’s hair and changed his name to protect him from being kidnapped and accused rebels of intimidating the family.” He also added that his son was now in good health in Aleppo. The region is currently under the control of Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad following the rebel resistance’s decimation in Aleppo in December last year.
“I stayed in Syria. This is my country, where I grew up and lived and my children will grow up in it,” Mohamad said in another interview reported The New York Times. Criticising opposition against Assad, he said: “They are the ones who hurt us and our country and displaced the people.” Mohamad also alleged that the opposition activists offered him money to speak out against the Assad regime after his son’s image went viral.
Valerie Szybala from the Syria Institute, a research organisation that focuses on Syria, said it was unlikely that the family was speaking freely. “They are under government control now and this is a government that we know arrests and tortures anyone that speaks out against it … to me the situation seems to suggest this is probably coerced,” Szybala told Reuters.
The New York Times also reported the family had appeared in a series of interviews on channels supportive of President Assad and they were “apparently part of a calculated public relations campaign by the Syrian government.” When Omran’s picture brought international attention to the war in Aleppo, President Assad had alleged that the incident was a “part of the publicity of those White Helmets.” He had also claimed that the picture was not “a real one” but “forged”.