Ahmad Ashlaq, 21, Homs
The resourceful citizen journalist was killed in May when government forces attacked a rebel meeting.
Ahmad Ashlaq was a techie. He loved to tinker with video cameras and figured out how to bypass government Internet filters to access banned sites such as YouTube and Facebook. Ashlaq, 21, faced a difficult decision last year: join the crowds in Homs and protest, or pick up a camera and document the historic changes in his country. He opted for his camera.
He was enrolled in the university in Homs but left his studies to become a citizen journalist full time. During the next 14 months, Ashlaq documented peaceful protests, shelling of civilian neighborhoods, and even clashes between the Free Syrian Army and government security forces. “The guys who do this job are really brave,” said Omar Shakir, an activist who knew Ashlaq.
Ashlaq was resourceful: When the Internet was shut down around Homs, he managed to smuggle in a satellite modem and continued to upload videos. In late May, Ashlaq traveled to Damascus for a meeting with a handful of opposition leaders and members of the Free Syrian Army. He was going to help them learn about video recording and software. Government security forces were apparently tipped off, and the building where the group was meeting was attacked. Ashlaq made a final call to a friend to let him know that they were surrounded and that the security forces were shooting their way in, according to opposition activists and friends. At the time of his death, Ashlaq’s YouTube channel had 382 videos and had received more than 2.2 million hits.
Khaled Nasrallah, 32, Apamea
The father of three was shot by a sniper May 12 while trying to defend town from government forces.
When protests kicked off last year in Apamea, a small town in northern Syria, Khaled Nasrallah didn’t join the crowds. He was irritated because the demonstrations disrupted business at his vegetable shop. That soon changed: In March 2011, Nasrallah, 32, saw Syrian security forces open fire on demonstrators, injuring several friends and family members. He joined the crowds during the next protest. Within weeks, Nasrallah, who is a Sunni Muslim, linked up with ragtag fighters from the Free Syrian Army and quickly rose to a position commanding small units.
Nasrallah distinguished himself as a fighter. “Some people retreat, and some have the courage to be in the front row,” said Mousab Alhamadee, an opposition activist who filmed Nasrallah in combat. “Khaled was in the front with [a rocket-propelled grenade]. That’s why I had a very high opinion of him.”
As the months passed, life became more difficult for Nasrallah: He often had to leave his wife and two young children alone at home for long periods while he hunkered down on remote rebel bases. On May 12 of this year, pro-government militiamen attacked civilians in a town near Apamea. Nasrallah joined a group of Free Syrian Army fighters who went to defend the town and evacuate the wounded. As he was walking in the streets, he was shot by a sniper. His fellow rebels raced him to a field clinic at their base, but they couldn’t save him. Nasrallah’s body was returned to Apamea that evening, and dozens of people turned out for the funeral, which was documented in online videos. Nasrallah’s wife was pregnant with their third child when he was killed.
Dalal Auf, 15, Hama
Teenager was shot Dec. 29 while grocery shopping with her family in Hama.
Dalal Auf loved drawing and hanging out with her friends. Even though Auf’s family supported the opposition, she never attended any protests in Hama, her home town, according to her uncle, Amaar Abu Shaheen. On Dec. 29, Auf, a 15-year-old high school student, joined her parents and younger brother for a routine trip to the market to buy vegetables. As she waited in the car for her father to return, gunfire broke out in the street around her. Auf dashed into a nearby shop along with her mother and brother. The shopkeeper quickly locked the doors, but the shooting continued around them for an additional 10 minutes. When the shooting stopped, Auf sat bleeding in her mother’s lap. She was rushed to a nearby hospital, but not soon enough to save her.
When news of her death spread, the mayor of Hama reportedly called her father and blamed the shooting on opposition fighters. The family didn’t buy it. “We have video from that day which shows the shabiha shooting in the same street,” her uncle said, referring to a pro-government militia. “And Dalal’s father’s car is in that video.”
There were large street demonstrations during her memorial service, and opposition fighters named a school and street in Hama after her. Auf was killed two days before her 16th birthday.
Basilious Nassar, 30, Hama
The Greek Orthodox priest was shot Jan. 25 as he tried to help a civilian wounded in a firefight.
Basilious Nassar had a bright future as a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church. Nassar, 30, taught Byzantine music at a school in Hama and was loved by his parishioners. But when the uprising began, his peaceful world was upended. “The situation was very bad in Hama,” said the Rev. Arsenious Hanonik, a close friend who is Lebanese. “But he was always serving the people. He would receive calls from people who were wounded, arrested, under bombardment or in other troubled situations.”
On Jan. 25, heavy clashes broke out in Hama between opposition fighters and government soldiers. Nassar attempted to help a civilian wounded in a firefight, and was shot and killed. It’s not clear which side is responsible: Members of the opposition claim the government targeted the young priest, while Syrian news outlets and some members of the clergy blame opposition fighters. Nassar’s death sent a chill through Syria’s Christian community, which has largely avoided taking sides in the conflict.
Issa Mohammed Jassem, 21, Aleppo
The Syrian army soldier, who was scheduled to be married, was shot Feb. 8 as he and other soldiers tried to sneak off base.
Issa Mohammed Jassem loved to ride his motorcycle with friends in his village in northern Syria. But he was also a responsible young man who took time out to help his father raise cattle, according to a relative.
When the uprising started, Jassem, 21, was a soldier in the Syrian army, but he didn’t want to fight. He was engaged and scheduled to be married within months. Jassem also sympathized with the opposition. In early February, Jassem’s army unit was sent from its base near Aleppo to Zabadani, a small town in southwest Syria.
Within days, Jassem realized he had to get out. He and a handful of like-minded soldiers hatched a plan to escape. On Feb. 8, the group was spotted trying to sneak off the base. A commander ordered the soldiers who remained with the unit to open fire, and Jassem was killed. “He was shot because he did not obey orders and he tried to leave the scene,” said one family member who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation by security forces. Members of Syrian intelligence returned Jassem’s body to his family. The family was warned that the burial should be a low-key ceremony, without big crowds.
Ahmad Sadeq, 36, Damascus
Imam who accused the opposition of being traitors and heathens was killed Feb. 15 in a hail of gunfire in a Damascus suburb.
Sheik Ahmad Sadeq was a man with a message. That message was delivered from the pulpit of a Damascus mosque and on Syrian television, and it was often in strong support of President Bashar al-Assad. As the peaceful protest movement transformed into an armed uprising in recent months, Sadeq, a Sunni Muslim, ratcheted up his rhetoric. He accused the opposition of being traitors and heathens and asked them to lay down their arms. Opposition supporters fumed about his sermons and accused him of being a government stooge, according to postings on Web sites supporting the uprising.
On Feb. 15, opposition fighters lashed out: Sadeq, 36, was killed in a hail of gunfire in a Damascus suburb. “It’s clear that the enemies of Mr. Assad killed Sheik Sadeq,” said Mohammad Habash, an Islamic scholar and former parliamentarian who is based in Damascus. “It’s not difficult to understand the reasons behind that. The people who killed him are criminals. But it’s also not good to put Islamic imams on TV and ask them to attack other imams.” The assassination of Sadeq appeared to be a warning from armed rebels to other clerics not to side with the regime.
GRAPHIC: Emily Chow & Anup Kaphle. PHOTOS: Courtesy of victims' families. Published July 4, 2012.