Deadly sprint in sniper alley


A Syrian man who was shot by a sniper waits to be rescued by members of the Al-Baraa Bin Malek Batallion, part of the Free Syria Army's Al-Fatah brigade, in the Bustan al-Basha district of the northern city of Aleppo on October 20, 2012.
AFP Photo/Javier Manzano

By Javier Manzano


On October 20, I hooked up with Al-Baraa Bin Malek Katiba, an armed opposition group in Syria belonging to the Al-Fatah Brigade under the Free Syria Army (FSA). To get to the main group, I first had to run past a "sniper alley", a 15-metre (yard) stretch of road in the direct line of sight of a sniper, who was positioned in a building on the south side of the main road connecting two contested Aleppo districts and overlooking an FSA checkpoint.

I walked down the main road, with a high stone wall providing cover from the barrel of the sniper, who controlled a 300-metre-long stretch of the road, allowing us safe passage to the katiba headquarters -- a dilapidated building scarred by multiple mortar hits.


A Syrian man who was shot by a sniper runs towards members of the Al-Baraa Bin Malek Batallion, part of the Free Syria Army's Al-Fatah brigade, in the Bustan al-Basha district of the northern city of Aleppo on October 20, 2012.
AFP Photo / Javier Manzano

As we headed towards the base, an FSA soldier pointed to a small figure on the other side of the road -- "a dead man", the rebel soldier said. 

I looked through my camera and saw a man lying face down on the sidewalk, about 70 metres down the road. The sniper had shot him from across the street as he walked towards Sheik Massoud, a Kurdish neighborhood in northwest Aleppo.

Several vehicles drove past, but none stopped: Corpses are often left where they fall, as retrieving can them can prove deadly.

As I pulled my camera up to review the scene with a longer lens, I suddenly noticed the man's leg moving. Seconds later he moved again. To our surprise, he then began to slowly turn his head towards us. He was alive!

The FSA soldiers around me began to communicate with him, telling him to put his head down and wait as they tried to have a vehicle drive past him (and past the line of sniper fire).

The plan was to have the downed man crawl or sprint towards the waiting vehicle. It failed.

A taxi drove past the wounded man, slowed down and reversed onto the side of the road. The sniper immediately shot three rounds. Aiming high at first, the message was clear: Anyone who helps this man will die.


A Syrian man reacts in pain after being shot by a sniper for a second time as he waits to be rescued by members of the Al-Baraa Bin Malek Batallion, part of the Free Syria Army's Al-Fatah brigade, in the Bustan al-Basha district of the northern city of Al
AFP Photo / Javier Manzano

After the taxi sped away, a small pickup truck carrying six men approached from the opposite direction. As it slowed, the sniper fired another stream of bullets. The pickup truck immediately pulled back and sped away.

It was at this moment, I believe, that the wounded man realised his predicament.

His wound was not necessarily life-threatening in the short term, judging by the amount of blood coming from his right shoulder. But the sniper had the time to watch and wait, patiently stalking the downed man in a sick game of hunter and hunted.

The man could either lay there and play dead until night fell, and risk bleeding to death, or take his chances and make a run for it in plain sight.

He chose the latter option.

By this time the whole Al-Baraa Bin Malek katiba was on our end of the street, watching and yelling at the man to stay down. 

But suddenly, he stood up.


Members of the Al-Baraa bin Malek batallion, part of the Free Syria Army's Al-Fatah brigade, duck to the ground as they pull a man (R) who was shot by a sniper twice in the Bustan al-Basha district of the northern city of Aleppo on October 20, 2012.
AFP Photo / Javier Manzano

Unsure where to run, he looked to his right and then to his left -- then finally he set his gaze towards us. This, he decided, was the best direction to run. It was also toward the sniper's position.
As he made the first steps off the sidewalk and onto the road, every vocal cord around me began to scream "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar!" (God is the greatest!)

He made it to the middle of the street, jumped the median between the two lanes and sprinted the last 10 metres separating him from life or death.

If he could just make it to the end of the road he could dive to the sidewalk and take cover cover behind a small wall encircling the building where the sniper was positioned.
A yard or so before reaching the sidewalk, three shots were fired -- the man collapsed.

He lay close to us, rolling on the ground in agony. Holding his shirt outward, as if to lessen the pain, it appeared a bullet had penetrated the right side of his abdomen. In silence, he turned his head and looked back at us -- his was the look of desperation, the look of a defeated man. He could go no further.


Members of the Al-Baraa bin Malek batallion, part of the Free Syria Army's Al-Fatah brigade, duck to the ground as they pull a man (C) who was shot by a sniper twice in the Bustan al-Basha district of the northern city of Aleppo on October 20, 2012.
AFP Photo / Javier Manzano

Within seconds, three men began to crawl towards him, staying low and close as the sniper's bullets tore through the air above them. The shooter was not going to let go easy. FSA soldiers provided cover throughout the rescue operation as more men joined in, pulling the man off the street and onto the sidewalk. The men at the front pushed the victim's feet as the men at the rear pulled his arms.

This human chain, although slow moving, was effective enough to slowly move the wounded man towards the safety of the stone wall providing us with cover.

The rebel soldiers providing covering fire emptied one magazine after another as the rescue team continued to pull and push the man to safety. As they got closer to us, a colleague and myself began to pull the ankles of the last man in the human chain.

We pulled, but the chain did not move. More soldiers joined in to help and I was able to photograph the last moments when the man was pulled back to the safety of the stone wall (and onto a waiting vehicle).

The man's fate is unknown.

Two more civilians were shot in a period of three hours -- a man was shot in the neck and a woman was also wounded -- by gunshots ringing out from the sniper's firing position.


Members of the Al-Baraa bin Malek batallion, part of the Free Syria Army's Al-Fatah brigade, duck to the ground as they pull a man who was shot by a sniper twice in the Bustan al-Basha district of the northern city of Aleppo on October 20, 2012.
AFP Photo / Javier Manzano

Javier Manzano is a freelance photographer based in Kabul, Afghanistan.