Omran Daqneesh became a symbol of the suffering in Aleppo after a heartbreaking photo showing him sitting in the back of an ambulance — bloodied, dazed, dusty and confused — went viral on social media.
Now, photos and video of Omran show a young boy in good health and living in Aleppo, which is now under firm control of the Syrian regime.
A pro-Assad reporter, Kinana Alloush, who once posted a selfie with the dead bodies of rebel fighters, published the first pictures of Omran and his family since they were struck by bombardments conducted by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
“The child Omran, those who tried to shed Syrian blood mislead the news that he was hit by the Syrian Arab Army,” she wrote. “Here he now lives in the Syrian state with its army, its leader and its people.”
Other pro-regime outlets and the Kremlin-funded video news agency Ruptly also conducted interviews with the boy (Russia is a major ally of the Syrian regime).
That raises questions over whether the boy is being exploited for a pro-Assad agenda or the family had been forced to conduct the interview.
Last year, images of Omran being loaded into the emergency vehicle were posted on social media — where it quickly went viral — by rebel groups, including the The Syrian Civil Defense and Aleppo Media Center (AMC).
It highlighted the suffering of besieged civilians in east Aleppo, drawing the world’s attention to the crisis. His brother later died of his wounds.
But now media loyal to the Assad government appears to be spinning the story for their own agenda.
In the interview posted by Alloush, Omran’s father said he changed his son’s name and shaved him to protect him from media attention. “They wanted to trade in his blood and published his photos,” he said.
He added that he refused offers by rebel groups to leave Syria because they want to damage the reputation of the country’s army. The family reportedly fled to regime-held west Aleppo as soon as they had a chance.
It’s not the first time that children who went viral on social media during the Syrian civil war are being exploited from one side or another for propaganda purposes.
Bana Alabed, the 7-year-old girl who tweeted her experience of living in besieged Aleppo, was depicted with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan after her family was evacuated from the devastated Syrian city and allowed into Turkey, with permission to remain.
In a video, Bana can be heard telling Erdoğan: “Thank you for supporting the children of Aleppo and help us to get out from war. I love you.”