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MELISSA BLOCK, host: In Syria today, there were massive protests, and at least two people were killed by security forces. NPR's Kelly McEvers recently returned from Syria, and one night in Damascus, she managed to sneak away from her minders and spent an evening with a man who was an who was an I.T. engineer by day and an activist by night.

KELLY MCEVERS: Let's start this story with how I was able to meet the activist. It was the quietist time of the day, just as everyone was breaking the fast. I walked away from my hotel and caught a taxi off the street. I stopped at a foreign embassy and stood on the sidewalk. The activist was out there somewhere, to see if anyone had tailed me. A short and skinny young guy walked past and whispered: Please follow me. I waited until he got down the block and then I started walking. I'd been instructed to do all this by one of the protest leaders. I followed the activist through streets and alleys. We finally reached his car in a lot behind a door.

He told me I can't use his voice on the radio unless it's when he's whispering or away from the mic. Activists have been arrested simply for talking to reporters on the phone. The only other voice you'll hear is mine.

How old is he? Fifteen years old.

The activist was telling me about a young protestor who'd been killed by security forces. Later, at his funeral, another man was shot. He's now dying in the hospital.

We stop at the activist's house to grab something to eat before the final day's prayer. It's Ramadan and the moments after the extra nightly prayer have become a time of protest. After tea, the activist changes into a white robe and I put on a long, black abaya and head scarf. His mother and sisters say they like the way it looks.

The activist says his family doesn't know why I'm there or what we're doing or maybe they do know, but don't want to admit this could be the last time they see their son.

Back in the car, we see security forces on their way to the nightly prayer.

So that's a green bus. Yeah. It's a regular transportation bus.


MCEVERS: But it's full of men, all in plain clothes. Oh, wow. More. One, two bus loads full of what they call shabiha.

The shabiha are government-sponsored thugs who carry rifles, clubs and Tasers. They take their buses to mosques, then wait outside to keep people from gathering. We decide to make our own plan.

So if something happens, we'll just separate. I won't see you again and I'll just find my way. I'll get a taxi and I'll go home.


MCEVERS: We pull over and wait for the prayer to finish. The activist gets out first and tells me to wait. Then he comes right back.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Please, hurry. They've started.

MCEVERS: It's happened? OK. But should I leave my bag in the car?


MCEVERS: I hide my phone in my sleeve. It's doing all the recording. We see a group of maybe 30 protesters walking very fast down a dark and narrow alley. You can hear them chanting in the background. We run to catch up. Then we hear the cars.


MCEVERS: The activist says that's a warning sign. The security forces are coming. The protestors surge back toward us. Somebody's running down the street. Everybody's running like crazy. We're leaving.

The activist called me Mama and grabs my arm. We're trying to look like we have nothing to do with the protest. The activist says they could arrest us at any minute, so we do our best to stay calm. We make it back to the car.

OK. That was fast. That sound was a stun grenade. We saw the flash just to our left as we were running back through the alley and now things are, you know, acting normal. So when you go around Damascus and everybody says, oh, look, it's normal, it's like, well, sort of.

Later, after I left Damascus, I talked to the activist on a secure line. I've asked him to check in with me so I know he's all right. Every day, one of us is arrested and tortured, he says. One day, my time is coming. Until the world realizes what's happening in Syria, he says, they will try and get us all.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News.

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