- Thomson Reuters
“May I show you a picture?” the Swiss broadcaster asked, producing the photo of Daqneesh, the 5 year old Syrian boy whose photo went viral as a human face to the ongoing tragedy in Aleppo.
“Do you know this picture? His name is Omran, 5 years old, covered in blood, scared, traumatized, is there anything you’d like to say to Omran and his family?”
“I have something to say to you first of all,” said Assad. “Go to the internet to see the same picture with the same child with his sister.”
Assad goes on to say that both children were rescued by the “White Helmets,” Syrian volunteers who work to search for survivors following airstrikes. Currently, the White Helmets are overwhelmed by the widespread suffering caused by Syria and Russia’s vicious air campaign on Aleppo. Recently, either Syrian or Russian warplanes bombed a UN humanitarian aid convoy directly.
But Assad’s direct quote is that these volunteers are “a facelift of al Nusra,” which is to say that they’re covert al Qaeda agents. Assad claims that the White Helmets rescued the children twice as part of a publicity campaign.
“It is manipulated,” Assad said of the photo.
However, the photo is only a still from a longer video released by the Aleppo Media Center. The video shows rescuers pulling Daqneesh from the rubble of an airstrike and placing him in an ambulance. Later photos show the boy cleaned up and bandaged.
“This is a forged picture, not a real one,” said Assad.
In interviews, Assad consistently sticks to his talking points and the same narrative he’s held since the beginning of the war in Syria. In an earlier interview with the Associated Press, Assad claimed he was virtually blameless for six years of death and devastation in Syria that started when he used excessive violent force against his own people to crush largely peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.
For the world at large the photo of dejected Daqneesh, born after the start of the brutal conflict, was a heartbreaking reminder about the suffering going on in Aleppo.
For Assad, during this interview, it was an opportunity to sink to a new low in both denying the legitimacy of the young boy’s unimaginable suffering and of slandering the White Helmets.