Flight From Syria: A Photographer's Story : The Picture Show Photographer William Daniels shares his story — but shifts the focus from himself to Syrians.

Flight From Syria: A Photographer's Story

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. Now, an account of the fighting inside Syria told by a French photographer who was there and escaped. William Daniels was among a group of journalists who were smuggled last month into the city of Homs. He'd been there for just a few hours when he survived an attack that killed two of his companions, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. And he ultimately escaped with a wounded French journalist, Edith Bouvier.

William Daniels was on assignment for Time magazine. He's now back home in Paris. I asked him to talk about the days after the attack when they were hiding out in Homs.

WILLIAM DANIELS: During the five days, we stayed hiding in this room. I haven't seen so much because it was very, very dangerous to go out because of the shelling, but also because of snipers.

So what I saw during the five days is mostly the hospital and this hospital is targeted every day by shelling. There's no more running water. Every day, you have civilians badly wounded who arrive at the hospital. You have children every day. You have women. And they can't operate people who have big injuries, so it's a very desperate place.

BLOCK: Where you're calling a hospital, I'm assuming is really a makeshift kind of clinic.

DANIELS: Yes. Just a makeshift hospital. It's this - like a three room. Two, three doctors and two or three nurses. It was just an apartment and I think it was the office of the Red Crescent or something like that before the war.

BLOCK: I want to ask you, William, about the first time that you tried to make an escape out of Homs through, I gather, the same water pipeline that got you into the city - five feet, four inches high. The wounded journalist, Edith Bouvier, is on a stretcher. She's being carried by four Syrian activists. What happened?

DANIELS: We were going very, very slow because Edith was difficult to carry and people can not stand up normally, so to carry someone without standing up normally, it's very, very tiring. So we were very, very slow and we were at the end of this big convoy because there were many people.

And when we were, I would say, quite close to the exit, we heard some firing, Kalashnikov firing and we heard some bomb and then some activists who were with us, they came to us, said something Arabic. They looked very, very scared and they left to go back to Baba Amr.

And the one carrying Edith were very scared; they left. Only one stayed with us and he looked very worried and he put Kalashnikov on Edith's body and he said something like, one minute, which means, I guess, don't worry. I'm not fleeing. I'm just looking for help. But we didn't know. So he left and we spent about 10, 15 minutes in the dark together.

BLOCK: And, in the end, you ended up having to go back to Baba Amr, the neighborhood that was being shelled. How did you get there?

DANIELS: We could hear some noise and then we saw this light of a motorbike because there are two or three - there were two or three motorbikes in this pipe and so I came back with a motorbike and the driver and we took Edith from the stretcher, we had to do, we left her back there with everything and especially with Remi's belongings, which was a hard choice to make, and we came back to Baba Amr.

BLOCK: You had to leave the few possessions that you were able to save from the photographer who was killed, Remi Ochlik?

DANIELS: Yeah, exactly. And this was something very painful for us because Edith and I promised ourselves that we had to do the best possible to bring back his belongings. But when we were back in Baba Amr, I explained this to some free army soldiers and so he told me, we'll try to get it back. And two days later, we are already out of Baba Amr, someone arrived with the bag, which was a very full of emotion moment.

BLOCK: Let me ask you this, William. I spoke with one of the Syrian activists, Abu Bakr, who was in that same house where the two journalists were killed and where Edith Bouvier was injured and he said this. He said Syrian blood is so cheap and he talked about the thousands of Syrians who had been massacred, but that it took the deaths of these two Western journalists to really get the attention of the international community.

I wonder, as somebody who was there at the time, as a Western journalist, what you think about that.

DANIELS: Yeah, I agree. I really agree. That's why we think now, with Edith, that we must talk about what's happening there. But yes, this man is right. The Syrian blood costs much less than other blood.

BLOCK: From the time that you were in Homs, what can you tell us about the activists, who they are, what they're fighting for?

DANIELS: The activists are just young civilian who knows a bit about Internet and multimedia, but they were risking - really, really risking their lives every day to send images to major medias to put on YouTube, to put on Internet. Most of the time, I was hiding in this room. I couldn't go out to take pictures. I could just go a little bit in the hospital.

This guy, this man, this activist, they go every day outside. They are just heroes.

BLOCK: What did they tell you about why they did that?

DANIELS: There's nothing else to do. I mean, their last weapon to protect themselves is image, is video, pictures, photography.

BLOCK: The civilian activists who you were with, did they talk about the free Syrian army, the defectors from the army? Are they working in tandem with them?

DANIELS: Yes. Of course, we're working all together and we were with some free Syrian army most of the time also. And this is free Syrian army who help us evacuate from this place.

BLOCK: I was looking at a video that was apparently shot at Homs yesterday and it looked entirely like a ghost town, just huge craters, the twisted wreckage of cars, bombed-out buildings, no people except for a very, very occasional car that would go by. Is that similar to what you saw in that brief window that you were out in Baba Amr?

DANIELS: Sure. I guess it's even worse now, but when we were there, it's a ghost city. It's a ghost city and then when you try to see - there are some people - that you understand quickly that they are some people. There are lots of civilians still living there. I mean, when we were there.

One night, we could go to a kind of big basement and there were 150 person, mostly women and children, who were staying there in the dark with very low light. We couldn't go out. Many children were sick and they couldn't escape from the city, so it's like a trap.

BLOCK: I wonder if it was troubling to you while you were in Homs that the Syrian activists you were with must have been adding to their own risk by helping you, by sheltering you and trying to get you out of there.

DANIELS: Of course. They are risking - they were risking their life to save us. They were always saying the fact that you came to see us is something strong, so we know our duty is to protect you. I'm sure many of the people who helped us are dead now.

BLOCK: You're sure about that?

DANIELS: No, I don't have any proof about it, but I guess that some are dead now.

BLOCK: Well, William Daniels, it's good of you to talk with us today. Thank you very much.

DANIELS: Thank you to you.

BLOCK: Photojournalist William Daniels speaking from Paris. You can see some of the photos he took in Homs at NPR.org.


SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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