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‘I thought I was dead’: Journalist recounts being trapped under rubble

On the afternoon of Sunday June 5, 19-year-old Aleppo-based journalist […]

13 June 2016

On the afternoon of Sunday June 5, 19-year-old Aleppo-based journalist Bahaa Alhalabi heard the sound of a missile approaching.

AlHalabi was returning home after covering the regime shelling of Al-Qatriji, a rebel-held neighborhood in east Aleppo.

“All of a sudden I looked up and saw parts of a building falling towards me,” AlHalabi, who works for the Anatolia News Agency and the Aleppo Media Center, tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier.

The residential building collapsed on top of the journalist and trapped him for 10 minutes. “I thought I was dead,” he said.

Syrian Civil Defense and a fellow journalist heard his cries and rushed to rescue him from the rubble.

Crossfire and combat in Syria have killed 73 journalists since 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists

Journalists in Syria also face threats, kidnappings, arrests, and murder. Syria currently ranks 177 out of 180 countries surveyed in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.

“As a reporter, I tell the world what is happening. This bombing won’t stop me.”

Q: Tell me about yourself. What did you study?

I’m Bahaa Alhalabi and I’m 19 years old. I didn’t finish my studies after high school because I wanted to join the revolution. Right now I’m working with the Anatolia News Agency and the Aleppo Media Center.

 Aleppo journalist Bahaa Alhalabi on June 5. Photo courtesy of Bahaa Alhalabi.

Q: Why did you decide to become a journalist, knowing the risks they face?

My father is actually a journalist. As a young person in Syria when the revolution broke out, I decided that my camera and my word were effective weapons. This work gives me an opportunity to inform the world about the injustice and oppression inside my country. I’m not afraid of my fate because I’m serving my country. All of my fellow journalists have the same goal.

Q: Tell us what happened when the building fell on you?

I was in Al-Qatriji neighborhood covering the damage caused by air strikes. Then I decided to go home. On my way I stopped to cover another area that was being bombed. I stood in the corner of one of the buildings so I could shoot. Suddenly, there was the sound of a missile hitting. I looked up and saw parts of the building falling towards me.

[Ed.: On June 5, the rebel-held Al-Qatriji neighborhood of Aleppo was one of several bombed by regime planes in a series of deadly airstrikes.]

For the first few minutes, I thought I was dead. I realized that I could move one of my hands and my feet, but it was hard because I was too scared. Then I heard the ambulance sirens. They got closer so I yelled. I tried moving again to escape from underneath the rubble. Suddenly, someone grabbed me and pulled me out of the debris. I saw the Civil Defense team and dust everywhere. Then I lost consciousness. 

When I regained consciousness, I saw [my colleague] Yasar beside me. He took pictures of me and said, “thank God you’re okay.” 

After a few hours, I was able to move again. 

I was truly terrified. I usually don’t get this scared when it comes to bombings but this time was different. I was scared to death. I don’t know how I survived; it was a miracle.

 Bahaa AlHalabi. Photo courtesy of Aleppo Media Center.

Q: Despite these unavoidable risks in the field, will you continue your work? Even after you miraculously survived this bombing?

I’ll continue to report the pain and suffering of innocent people. I’ll continue to reveal the crimes of the regime, Russia and Iran. In fact, I just covered the bombing of the Sakhor district this afternoon. As a reporter, I tell the world what is happening. This bombing won’t stop me. I will stay in Aleppo until I die.

Q: Have you covered any emotionally difficult events? How did you respond?

Two days ago, I shot a video of a child crying over his father. I couldn’t stop the stream of tears that flowed down my face. I can’t even describe the event. It was heartbreaking.

There have been other events that I couldn’t document. I couldn’t get a hold of myself.

But as journalists, we have to force ourselves to shoot. If we don’t control our emotions, we won’t be able to unmask the criminals.

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