(ABC News) — A photo of a young Syrian boy covered in dust and blood in an ambulance that was viewed by millions and became the face of Aleppo’s suffering is being called fake by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a claim that contradicts numerous witness accounts on the ground in Syria.
The boy, five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, was pulled from a destroyed building in the besieged part of Aleppo’s Qaterji neighborhood after a Syrian or Russian airstrike on Aug. 17, according to locals, including medical sources and the White Helmets, a volunteer civil defense group that rescued the boy. On social media, many users said that they were particularly moved by his photo because he looked dazed and confused and wasn’t crying despite the obvious injury to his head.
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A video showing Omran touching his wounded head and wiping away the blood without shedding a tear went viral and has come to symbolize the humanitarian suffering in Aleppo. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton mentioned the boy’s story in two of the presidential debates, including last night’s.
Now, the Syrian president has said that the photo of Omran is fake. When confronted with the photo in an interview with Swiss TV SRF1 and asked what he would say to Omran and his family, Assad responded: “We have real pictures of children being harmed, but this one specifically is a forged one.”
Assad makes the claim about nine minutes into the televised interview.
Medical sources in Aleppo confirmed to ABC News in August that they treated Omran following the airstrike.
“Omran was scared and dazed at the same time. He wasn’t crying at all. It seemed like he had been asleep when it happened,” Mohammad, a surgeon in Aleppo who treated him, told ABC News at the time. “He was very lucky. He only had a simple wound in the scalp. We cleaned and stitched the wound and cleaned his face and clothes. There was no brain damage, and he was discharged after two hours,” Mohammad said.
Mohamed Abu Rajab, a radiologist who treated the 5-year-old, told ABC News that “Omran looked very, very shocked and frightened. In the beginning, he didn’t speak at all. But after his treatment, he started crying and yelling, “father, mother.’ His parents were very, very affected and scared for their son and crying. But we comforted them and told them that the wound was superficial. But he wasn’t speaking so it seemed like his condition was very serious. It seemed like he was unconscious and like the wound had affected his brain. But it turned out that he was fine.”
Omran’s older brother later died from his injuries from the same attack, according to monitoring groups, activists and doctors in Aleppo.
The hospital where he was treated has since been completely destroyed by repeated airstrikes and is now out of service, according to medical staff who worked there and the Syrian American Medical Foundation, which supported the hospital.