Last year, a 5-year-old Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh tugged at the world’s heartstrings when a photo of him in an ambulance covered in ash, debris, and blood while gazing off into the distance went viral.
The young boy had been rescued from rubble following an air strike that hit Aleppo, which claimed the life of his older brother. The child’s image quickly became an international symbol of the terror that Syrian children faced in their war-torn country.
This week, the healed young boy reemerged in the media with his family. New interviews depict them living comfortably and, presumably, happily in the now government-controlled Aleppo.
While on the surface it is uplifting to see the boy and his family looking healthy and safe, reports suggest that there is much more to the situation than meets the eye.
The interviews were conducted by outlets that support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This fact alone has raised speculations that following up with the Daqneesh family was a manipulative stunt to project a false image of normality in the areas of Syria controlled by the government, HuffPost notes.
According to Valeria Szybala, executive director of the nonprofit research organization Syria Institute, the Daqneesh family is “under government control now and this is a government that we know arrests and tortures anyone that speaks out against it.”
“To me, the situation seems to suggest this is probably coerced,” she added.
Pro-Assad journalist Kinana Allouche’s words seemed to add to the suspicions. She posted photos from her own interview with the family on Facebook with the caption, “The child Omran, those who tried to shed Syrian blood mislead the news that he was hit by the Syrian Arab Army. Here he now lives in the Syrian state with its army, its leader, and its people.”
In a separate interview, the young boy’s father also blamed the violence in Syria on the rebels who oppose Assad: “They are the ones who hurt us and our country and displaced the people,” he said.
He also spoke very patriotically of his home country in his explanation for why he stayed after the attack and claimed that the viral images of his injured son in the ambulance were taken without his permission.
While we don’t know for sure if the Daqneesh family was forced to give these interviews, it is more than likely a possibility. As Syria analyst Annia Ciezadlo previously stated, the government has a track record of using propaganda “showing its supporters — even the reluctant ones — that it’s in control.”