Omran Daqneesh, the boy whose bloodied, dusty face became the image suffering in rebel-held Aleppo, is once again appearing on video clips being shared worldwide.
This time, he appears fresh-faced, his hair neatly brushed, in interviews filmed by pro-Syrian government news agencies and aired in countries that back the Syrian regime. Pro-Syrian channels from Lebanon, Russia and Iran joined Syrian media for the interviews.
In one interview, Omran’s father, Mohammed Daqneesh, accuses rebel groups and international media of using the bloodied photos of his son as propaganda tools.
“We were very harmed because of the gunmen and how they used things to their benefit with my child,” he told Ruptly, a video news agency owned by Kremlin-backed news channel Russia Today. “Thank God, he was only slightly wounded. Thank God, after the army advanced and retook these areas, we are now back in our homes. The situation now is very good, thank God.”
It’s not known if Omran or his father gave the interviews under duress, but the Syrian government is known to keep tight control on information within the country.
Pro-opposition journalist Musa Omar said Mohammed was speaking to the cameras under duress.
“Please, don’t say anything about Omran’s father. He is not pro-regime,” he said. “He is a hostage. He is a prisoner under the regime control, forced to say every single word in this interview.”
‘Face of Aleppo’
Omran caught the world’s attention when he was filmed, dazed, sitting in an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble of his family’s home last August, after an apparent regime or Russian airstrike.
He is silent despite the cacophony around him and reaches up to touch his bloodied temple. He pulls his hand away, sticky with blood, and looks at it uncomprehendingly.
“He was in extreme shock,” said a spokesman for the Aleppo Media Center, an activist group, at the time.
He was taken to hospital but released shortly after.
Rescue workers at the time said several other people were killed and many more wounded by the airstrike, including women and children. Omran’s 10-year-old brother, Ali, was among the dead.
Father: “I love my country”
In one interview aired Tuesday, Omran’s father said he moved to distance himself from the Syrian Civil Defense units who had taken his children to a hospital.
“They took (my kids) out and started filming them, while I was still upstairs,” he said. “They filmed them and took them to the hospital. When I came down and asked about my kids, they told me they were taken to the hospital.”
Mohammed told Syrian state media Sama the rebel commander had offered him safe passage to Turkey in return for denouncing the Syrian regime and blaming the attack on his home on the Russians.
“The rebel commander, Mohammed al Fatteh, came to visit me upon request from the Turkish Prime Minister… to (invite me to) go to Turkey. He said they would secure me a job, a house and grant me citizenship. They would even take me in an armored vehicle… but I refused,” he said.
When asked why he didn’t accept the offer, he said: “Because, I love my country and I am not convinced of them. (The rebels) are ridiculous.”
Sama journalist Kinana Allouche posted images of her interview with the family, including Omran, on her Facebook page.
“Omran, the child who the (media) tried to cover up the real cause of his injuries, claiming that it was a result of the Syrian Arab Army,” she said. “Now, he lives in the Syrian state with its army, its leader and its people.”
Iranian journalist, Hosein Mortada also posted video of the family, saying Syrian Civil Defense units, also known as the White Helmets, “claimed to save him from death.”
The Syrian regime regained full control of Aleppo in December of last year, marking a major turning point in the country’s five-year civil war.
President Bashar al-Assad’s troops and supporting militias entered eastern Aleppo by ground in late November. The regime and Russia – its most powerful ally – decimated neighborhoods with airstrikes, leaving scorched earth where a bustling metropolis once stood.
Tens of thousands of eastern Aleppo’s residents went to rebel-held areas in the countryside, according to a UN report. Very few chose to go to western Aleppo, said Jan Egeland, UN senior adviser on Syria. But, Omran’s family was among those that did.