Seks vestlige journalister snek seg inn i Bab Amr i Homs for å dekke Assad-regimets brutale krig. De ble selv måltavle. Marie Colvin og Remi Ochlik ble drept. Edith Bouvier mistet nesten en fot og unnslapp kun takket være William Daniels. Britiske Paul Conroy ble også skadet. Sjettemann var den spanske fotografen Javier Espinosa.
Skildringen av deres ferd inn i Homs, beleiringen og bombardementet, minner om Sarajevo på det verste.
Den 21. februar mottok fotodesken til Time magazine en melding fra den spanske fotografen William Daniels, som arbeider for dem. Han fortalte at en gruppe vestlige journalister og fotografer hadde lykkes å ta seg inn i Homs. En hel verden lurte på hva som skjedde inne i byen.
They had all sneaked into the country with the help of Syrian activists who had smuggled them across the border, at immense risk to themselves, believing it was crucial for the West to know about the mounting disaster. The journey included a hair-raising stretch through 2.5 miles of tunnel running under the Syrian Army’s firing positions. For a moment, the journalists felt the thrill of adventure, as Daniels himself now admits. They were in the middle of the biggest news story in the world. But the adventure would quickly turn to terror and, for those who made it out alive, those nine days in Syria could well haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Dagen etter den 22. februar begynte et morderisk bombardement, og det viste seg at det var rettet mot pressefolkene. Noen syrere kommer løpende og sier de må komme seg ut, med én gang!
Colvin and Ochlik ran out the door of their two-room hideout to grab their shoes at the entrance so they could flee. In the chaos, Daniels made a different, split-second decision: to stand a foot to the right of the wooden doorway to the room, placing his body against the inside wall, a reflexive action that would save him. Espinosa, meanwhile, jumped to the right of the doorway. The night before, Daniels and Conroy had surveyed their quarters — a makeshift media center deemed convenient since it had internet access — and concluded that the simple wooden door would not withstand a blast. But when the blast occurred, Conroy found himself in the path of the doorway, along with Bouvier.
At that instant, a rocket exploded at the front of the building, killing Colvin and Ochlik instantly. The space was filled with dust. In the chaos, Daniels heard Bouvier scream, «William, William! I can’t move!» Her left leg was crooked. He pulled her out by the shoulders. She was bleeding heavily. Carrying his colleague, Daniels staggered to the doorway. As he glanced down, he saw his friend Ochlik, just 28, lifeless on the floor. «Edith,» he gasped to Bouvier, «Rémi is not with us anymore.»
Bleeding and shaken, the journalists and Syrians in the house hid for 10 minutes in the bathroom, the safest spot in the house, until a car arrived to get them out. Frantic Syrian activists raced them to a makeshift clinic, where the doctor, a defector from President Bashar Assad’s military, declared that Bouvier needed an operation on two fractures on the femur. It was a procedure impossible to undertake given the war conditions in the besieged Bab Amr district of Homs. Equally impossible was fleeing through the tunnel by which they’d come, since Bouvier could not walk and transporting her by car was too dangerous for her safety. Conroy, who was also injured in the abdomen, had a large leg wound, but could be carried easily. The doctor injected Bouvier with morphine, and helped the journalists find a new hideout: a room with one small window surrounded by three-story houses, and hidden from the street.
De satt som fanget og kunne bare vente. De fikk smuglet ut en video, og omverdenen skjønte nok ikke helt hvor farlig situasjonen var.
They were trapped — Daniels, Bouvier, Espinosa, and Conroy. Confined to their sunless shelter, they sat listening, day after day, from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., to rockets and shells exploding outside, with a lull only around midday prayers. The closest Internet connection was a hazardous 10-minute walk through Bab Amr. But the journalists recorded a videotape, and handed it to activists to upload on YouTube. Broadcast across the world, it showed Daniels, Conroy and Bouvier appealing to the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate them. They looked curiously upbeat. Bouvier’s dark curls framed her broad smile. «We were happy just to have people come see us,» Daniels explains. «Edith looked radiant because that is her personality, she smiles a lot and loves to talk to people.»
Under et ildopphør dukker det opp fem syriske ambulanser fra den syriske røde halvmåne. Det oppsto en spent situasjon, litt lenger unna sto biler fra det internasjonale røde kors og forhandlet om leide. Det var meningen at deres syriske kolleger skulle vente og være bindeledd. Plutselig fikk syrerne beskjed om å dra.
By the time Daniels returned to Bouvier after the brief ceasefire, five ambulances from the government-run Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) were parked outside their hideout. «We aren’t here for you, we are here to get wounded Syrians,» an ambulance worker told Daniels. «The ICRC is just outside Bab Amr, 500 meters away. You can talk to them.»
Daniels borrowed the ambulance’s radio set and raised the ICRC representative to Syria, Marianne Gasser. «You have to get us out!» he **SAID into the crackling handset. «Don’t worry, we’re negotiating to go into Bab Amr, and it should be fine,» she told him.
Minutes passed. The Syrian ambulances offered to take Daniels and the others out of Bab Amr, but they would have to meet security forces first — a likely path to arrest. On the radio, Gasser assured Daniels that one ambulance would stay with them while another returned soon with an ICRC representative. Then, suddenly, one of the Syrian paramedics said, «We all have been ordered to leave now.»
«You can’t leave us!» Daniels pleaded desperately.
«We’ll pick you up later. We have to leave now,» he said, driving off. Soon after, government forces unleashed several rockets, seeming to aim directly at the journalists’ hideout. «Here a rocket, here a rocket, here a rocket,» Daniels says, marking crosses on a hand-drawn map as he retells the story. The journalists had been uncovered, and now, they were sitting ducks. Both in the blast which killed Colvin and Ochlik and now, Daniels believes the Syrian Army deliberately targeted them. The blasts continued for hours through the night and well into the morning. «We were really scared,» he says, drawing a breath as he relives the terror. Despite the risk of capture or worse, he says, they received word from French authorities to leave as soon as possible. «We decided the very next ambulance that came we had to go with them.»
De gjør et forsøk på å flykte gjennom den kilometerlange tunnelen under de syriske linjene. Bouvier ble båret på en båre. Taket var lavt. De beveget seg sakte. Plutselig hørtes skyting forut, det var syrerne som hadde oppdaget tunnelen. De måtte flykte tilbake. På motorskykkel.
By the morning of Sunday Feb. 26, the Syrian Army had reached the edge of Bab Amr, and was poised to smash through the cordon. Time was running out. The four colleagues made a decision: they would escape the way they came, through the 2.5-mile tunnel. They taped Bouvier to a stretcher, and four Syrians took turns carrying her in twos. But the tunnel, a water pipeline, was only 5’4″ feet high, so they had to crouch as they walked, dragging the heavy load. They fell further and further behind Conroy and Espinosa, who were ahead of them with several Syrian activists. Several people rode on motorbikes, which the opposition used to transport supplies into the besieged area and to take wounded people out. Suddenly there were explosions: The Army had attacked the tunnel’s far end. People fled, screaming.
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In the darkness, Daniels found himself alone with Bouvier, breathless and terrified. Finally,a rebel fighter approached, mumbled «no problem, no problem,» then placed his Kalashnikov rifle across Bouvier’s slender body, and ran. At first, Daniels and Bouvier thought he had left to bring help. But he had fled.
In the desperate darkness, Bouvier pleaded to her friend, «We have to move from here.» In his mind, Daniels thought she was simply too heavy. Fighting to remain calm, he tried dragging the stretcher, but couldn’t move it. Then he heard the buzz of a motorbike, and saw a dim headlight. He ran towards it, shouting for help. He and the driver cut Bouvier loose from the stretcher and placed her on the motorbike, Daniels behind her. They bumped through the darkness, back into the siege of Bab Amr, toppling over several times and once knocking Bouvier’s head hard on the tunnel roof.
De var tilbake i byen, mer trengt enn noensinne. Tiden var knapp. Omsider kom de seg ut, forkledt som kvinner i niqab. Det var en farlig reise, tvers gjennom de syriske linjene. Et apparat var intakt som kunne lose dem ut og innlosjere dem i sikre hus. Det sier noe om det eksisterer en organisert motstand.
De som tror at opprøret er ved å bli knust, tar feil. De fire vestlige som slapp ut er opptatt av alle de navnløse syrerne de møtte; aktivistene og alle familiene som satt hjelpeløse i kjellere, uten mat, kalde og forfrosne. Utlevert til en hær som bombarderte dem og sultet dem ut.