Syria: Bearing Witness To A Family's Massacre In Homs

Mani, a photojournalist with Le Monde, was in Homs, Syria on Jan. 26 when he finds out about a massacre of a local family. Rebels lead him past enemy territory to see the bodies of the victims, including several young children. This is his account.

A burning building in Homs on Jan. 20, 2012 (FreedomHouse)
A burning building in Homs on Jan. 20, 2012 (FreedomHouse)

HOMS - It's 4:30 p.m., when Abou Bilal, a Syrian rebel, tells me about the telephone call he'd just received with the news: a massacre has taken place in the Nasihine neighborhood of the city. Twelve people, including several children, had been executed in their home. I had just returned from an exhausting day at a small medical facility set up in an area controlled by the opposition. It was full to overflowing with the severely wounded and the dead: all civilians, victims of loyalist snipers and bombs. An hour and a half after the news of the massacre, at 6 p.m., the first video images showing the bodies of the murdered family appears on YouTube.

Sniper shots can be heard non-stop in the surrounding area. We hear bursts of machine-gun fire, as well as explosions set off by forces loyal to the regime. Night has fallen, and several groups of soldiers from the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) board unmarked vehicles to set off for the counter-attack. Rebels in charge of communication are glued to their computers to get the day's information out.

At 7 p.m., I run into one of the FSA leaders, Abou Layl. He suggests driving me to the medical facility where the bodies of the victims of the massacre have been brought. Four rebels, three of them FSA soldiers, join us. We climb into a car that drives through the small dark streets at high speed. On approaching a barricade manned by loyalist forces, the driver turns the car lights off. Sharply, I tell one of the soldiers who's looking at the display of his cell phone to turn it off. Any sign of light could give us away.

As we cross one dangerous intersection – at Wadi Avenue, which has been rechristend "Charia Al-Maout" or Avenue of Death -- one of the soldiers sitting in the front of the car puts his hand over the dashboard to hide their lights. Bending over in my seat so as not to be seen from the outside, I hear the man to my left praying. Just as we get to the other side of the avenue a shot aimed at us rings out.

The driver turns the lights back on, and continues zig-zagging at high speed through small streets. A few hundred meters later, he turns the lights off again and Abou Layl asks him to slow down because in the pitch black we risk an accident. We get to another dangerous street, and then make a turn. We head towards a lighted area, turn right, then left, continue straight ahead and finally reach the Karam Al-Zaitoun medical facility.

Shot point blank

There, in the courtyard, a crowd surrounds the murdered family. The bodies of five young children are lined up between the body of their father and five women. Half the skull of a little girl has been blown off, apparently from being shot point blank. A little boy was shot in the head from behind and the bullet exited through his left eye socket. A male nurse loosens the sheets that the bodies of three other children are wrapped in to show me their slit throats. I take photographs of the bodies.

Afterwards I go into the facility and I'm led to the two children who have survived. Ali, 3, trembles with terror. Ghazal, a little girl of four months, stops crying when she's hugged. She had been shot in the leg.

A neighbor of the family, a man around 60, tells us what happened. When residents of the neighborhood realized that a massacre was underway on Al-Ansar Street, three of them, according to the man, decided to try and access the targeted house by drilling holes in the walls of the houses attached to it. He claims to have seen, through these holes, the killing of the children. He says there were seven attackers in military uniform belonging to loyalist forces. He states that the men were able to leave the house under protective fire from soldiers positioned outside, get into an armored vehicle and disappear.

The 11 murdered people were members of the Bahadour family, which occupied two neighboring apartments. Two other members of the family escaped death because they were not home at the time of the killings.

Al-Ansar Street, where the killings took place, has a mixed population of Alawites – a Shiite sect to which the family of President Bashar Al-Assad belongs – and Sunnis. Alawites are in the majority. The zone, barricaded by regime forces, is not far from the Alawite neighborhood of Zahra, which is firmly in the hands of the regime. The eyewitness to the killings said there had been threats against the Sunnis living on Al-Ansar Street and efforts to terrorize them so they would leave the area.

On the way back we nearly crashed into a car as we veer through the streets with the lights off. As we crossed the last avenue controlled by loyalist forces, one more sniper takes a shot at our vehicle.

Read the original article in French

See Mani's photographs published on

Photo - FreedomHouse

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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