‘I Can’t Describe the Feeling of Holding Their Bodies,’ Says Syrian Civil Defense Rescuer on Recent Chemical Attacks

syria chemical attacks
Photo by Hamid Kutini 2017 – Syrian Civil Defense worker carries the body of child exposed to the chemical agent dropped on Khan Sheikhoun 4/4/17

 

To save one life is to save all of humanity.
و من أحياها فكأنما أحيا الناس جميعا  

(Syrian Civil Defense motto)

On April 4, 2017, the city Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, Syria was attacked by an airstrike of a chemical agent which left nearly 80 dead and more than 300 wounded. Those rescue workers present for the attack stated that the chemical agent had no color or odor and caused immediate blurred vision, massive headaches, slowed heart rate, foaming at the mouth, bodily convulsions, loss of consciousness, pinpoint pupils, asphyxiation, and death for some. Many doctors treating the victims and medical organizations working in Syria have stated that these symptoms are congruent with the nerve agent Sarin gas, which has been classified as an illegal “weapon of mass destruction”.

Trigger Warning: GRAPHIC IMAGERY

BELOW: Video of 4/4/17 Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack aftermath, filmed by Civil Defense Idlib team

 

The city of Khan Sheikhoun has been outside of the Syrian Assad regime control since May 2014. There is no and has never been any ISIS presence in the area. The closest ISIS posts are miles away in the Hama desert.

The only aircrafts operating in the region are those belonging to the Syrian Assad regime and Russian forces. Eyewitnesses have reported there were 4 missiles fired by a Sukhoi 22 (Su-2) jet fighter and local activists have reported intercepting radio communication which suggested the attacking plane left and returned to Shayrat military airport located in Homs dessert.

Leading up to the April 4 attack, planes had targeted several hospitals throughout rebel-held Idlib and Hama, leaving vital medical centers inoperable or critically damaged.

This is not the first chemical attack in Syria since the 2013 Ghouta Massacre, where approximately 1,400 civilians were killed due to the Syrian Assad regime’s use of Sarin gas in the attack. After investigations attributed this incident directly to Assad, the regime reportedly gave up their chemical weapons stockpile. However, there have been more than 160 chemical attacks since the beginning of the war in 2011, with close to 80% of them occurring after the 2013 chemical weapons agreement.

Leading up to the April 4 attack, planes had targeted several hospitals throughout rebel-held Idlib and Hama, leaving vital medical centers inoperable or critically damaged. After this April 4 attack, planes targeted two more medical points and the local Civil Defense rescue worker base of operations in the city of Khan Sheikhoun.

All these locations were attempting to treat and rescue victims of the chemical attack at the time they were bombed. These actions point to a sinister strategy Syrians have come to expect from the Assad regime — target civilian areas, then destroy their means of rescue and recovery.

Muslim Girl was able to speak with a man named Hamid Kutini who was at the location of the attack on April 4 as Syrian Civil Defense rescue. He lives and works in the city of Khan Sheikhoun and the MuslimGirl.com interviewer Julie Larah has known him for over a year. His answers to our questions have been translated into English.


 

Muslim Girl: Can you tell us please where you live in Syria and what kind of work you do with the White Helmets? Do you have family living with you or near you?

Hamid Kutini: My name is Hamid Kutini. I live in Khan Sheikhoun. I work with Syrian Civil Defense as a rescue worker and media personnel. I live in Khan Sheikhoun with my pregnant wife and my family.

Tell us about the kinds of attacks that happened in your city in the days prior to the chemical attack yesterday. What kinds of weapons have been used before yesterday and who has been responsible for those attacks?

On the 3rd of April 2017, Khan Sheikhoun and the surrounding countryside were targeted by 42 airstrikes from Russian and Syrian regime airplanes. They used C5 and thermobaric rockets. They also dropped 2 barrel bombs from a Syrian regime helicopter containing poisonous chlorine gas which targeted Al Habit town West of Khan Sheikhoun.

“I cannot describe for you the feeling of holding their bodies — immense sadness inside me. The number of martyrs to this moment is more than 80 and the number of wounded is over 300.”

Please tell us about yesterday specifically when the attack first occurred. What did you see, hear, smell, taste, feel?

On the 4th of April 2017 at exactly 6:35 A.M., I woke up to the sound of explosions inside the northern neighborhood of Khan Sheikhoun city. I contacted the Civil Defense team which was at the location that had been targeted. They informed me that those present at the site were in a state of drowsiness, loss of bodily control, and were in dire need of help. After hearing this, I went to the Civil Defense Center that is located at the eastern outskirts of the city, whereby I was informed by my colleagues about the nature of the poisonous gasses at the targeted location.

Please tell us about the symptoms the those exposed to the attack were exhibiting. What affect did the chemical agent have on them?

Another team went to the location first and they were working to take the injured people out of the area. They noted that many of those directly exposed to the chemical agent seemed to be having bodily convulsions. There were many cases where victims lost consciousness or were foaming at the mouths.

Please tell us about what you did to help these victims. How many were martyred and how many were injured?

I provided first aid and oxygen to the wounded. I also assisted in transporting those wounded and those killed. I cannot describe for you the feeling of holding their bodies — immense sadness inside me. The number of martyrs to this moment is more than 80 and the number of wounded is over 300.

Please tell us about any subsequent attacks on hospitals and other buildings right after the chemical attack. How did this impact your ability to save lives?

During our rescue operations, we also suffered exposure symptoms due to our contact with victims. Those included blurred vision and severe headaches. While we were providing first aid and transport of those exposed, the Civil Defense center we were operating out of was targeted with 10 airstrikes.

“I’m asking the international community to stop the war in Syria, stop the bombing of Syrians, stop the targeting of Syrians, stop targeting rescue workers, hospitals, and ambulances. Stop the war crimes in Syria.”

Please tell us your greatest fear for the future of Syria and your own family?

I’m in a very bad situation. I’m terrified that they will be re-targeting my city with toxic gas. I’m very afraid that my family will be injured or killed. I’m very afraid that I will maybe lose my pregnant wife. I’m now waiting for my baby to come… 

If you could ask the international community for one thing they could do to help Syrians, what would it be?

I’m asking the international community to stop the war in Syria, stop the bombing of Syrians, stop the targeting of Syrians, stop targeting rescue workers, hospitals, and ambulances. Stop the war crimes in Syria.


If there is one thing all Syrians who have experienced such atrocities want, it is international recognition of war crimes, international legal investigations of these war crimes, and intervention which holds the perpetrators of these crimes accountable for their actions. Ensuring the safety of civilians is paramount. After six years of war, Syrians only want to live their lives with freedom, dignity, justice, truth, and peace. Who will help them?