‘I thought I was going to die,’ says survivor of ISIS attacks

August 20, 2020 by Open Doors in Impact

The following is an account from an Open Doors field worker who often works in Syria and surrounding countries.

I just ate breakfast with Falit* and now we’re walking through the empty streets of Qamishli, a city in the far northeast of Syria. When we reach one of the streets in the central part of the city, Falit tells us the time he and his friends were attacked here by three ISIS terrorists in 2015.

He points ahead of us. “A car came from there,” he says. “Two terrorists came walking from that side. I was sitting there with my friends in front of my mobile phone store,” indicating a place to the left of us in this gray and dusty street.

“They started shooting,” Falit continues. “All my friends [were] injured. I wasn’t, as I had thrown myself flat on the street. I laid on the street for maybe 20 minutes. Nine of my close friends were injured—three friends died.”

His tone grows somber and respectful as he mentions the friends who were killed that day: George, Touma and Karam. “They were all shot when they tried to run away.”

I try to imagine the scene. This man next to me witnessed it with his own eyes. He has lived through this traumatic experience, as have so many other Syrian Christians who have witnessed these horrific scenes. His story makes real the heartbreaking reality of Syria’s nearly decade-long civil war.

“There, George lay.” Falit indicates where this friend was killed. “He was with my friend Khachik, who tried to help him. When he did so, he laid down next to George, then [the ISIS militants] shot at them. George died; Khachik was hit by eight bullets, but he did not die. I cannot get that scene out of my mind.”

This is the spot on the pavement where Falit laid down to try to avoid being killed by ISIS terrorists. Three of his friends were gunned down, and nine others were injured.

This is the spot on the pavement where Falit laid down to try to avoid being killed by ISIS terrorists. Three of his friends were gunned down, and nine others were injured.

The incident seemed to last for ages. “After about 20 minutes, some Kurdish militia and some Syrian army came from different directions to help us,” Falit remembers. “The terrorists kept on shooting and threw hand grenades. At the end they [blew themselves up].

“I felt as if I was part of an action movie. It was very difficult. The whole time, I thought I was going to die. There wasn’t place in my mind to think of those at home waiting for me. And I prayed: I prayed. [Any] moment I felt that I would be taken to the other side; I could remember how I had lived and remember my sins. I prayed in tears, asking Jesus to give me a new life, a life as His servant. This all happened in the first 10 minutes.”

Falit noticed that he would be able to get away from where he lay. “I could get inside a shop, helping Khachik to get there together with me. He was fighting for his life. One bullet [had] entered his chest, he had difficulty breathing.”

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A car in front of the shop caught fire and thick smoke filled the building. “I gave Khachik my wet shirt to put it for his mouth,” Falit says. “I kept on saying to him: ‘Please stay alive, stay alive.’” Then there was a big explosion. I was able to get out of the shop, carrying Khachik on my back. We reached the Syrian army and we were immediately taken to the hospital. As I was the only one of the group who wasn’t wounded, I stayed with my friends in the hospital for two days. I took care of them. Only on the third day, I finally went home.”

Falit’s mobile phone shop was badly damaged; he never reopened it at that location. For several months, he worked for the church. He was involved in the relief work for the many people affected by the Syrian crisis. “Later on, I could rent another place to open my shop again,” he says.

It wasn’t the only terror that Falit has witnessed. In the fall of 2019, several bombs exploded in Qamishli in a coordinated attack. Later, ISIS claimed responsibility. “One [bomb] exploded exactly in front of my home and in front of the church,” Falit says. “They put a car bomb there. I had just left home to get something for my pregnant wife who was sick at the time. Then I heard the explosion. I looked back [and] I saw a large cloud of smoke. Immediately, I saw it was close to our house [so] I ran back. Some of the Kurdish soldiers ran with me. I didn’t care about the debris or the fire; I only wanted to reach my wife. The doors of the house were broken and there was glass everywhere. When I arrived home, my wife was shivering with fear, crying hard, because she thought that I had been in the middle of the bombing.” Falit comforted his wife and both went to his parents’ house.

“Later, my wife told me that she was in bed when the bomb went off,” Falit says. “The bedroom was the only room that wasn’t damaged. The rest of my house was destroyed.” With the help of many friends, Falit repaired the doors and windows the next day. “All knew that our baby would come soon. Our daughter was born two days later.”

The war in Syria is not over. Attacks like those that Falit witnessed continue to happen daily. “Lord have mercy on this country,” I pray when we continue to walk the streets of this city. “Please Lord, stop this war.”

*Pseudonym and representative photo is used.

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