On June 27, Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson, told the state-owned Rossiya 1 television channel that the CNN had deliberately misled the public in their reports about Omran Daqneesh, a young Syrian boy who was famously photographed in the back of an ambulance, following an air strike on his home during the siege of Aleppo in August, 2016.
At the beginning of June, Daqneesh had appeared in footage released by Syrian, Russian and Iranian state media, in which his father condemned the use of his son’s image by western media and Syrian rebel activists, claiming that he had been unharmed during the air strike and proclaiming his support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Zakharova claimed that CNN had been asked by the Russian Foreign Ministry to formally apologize for their earlier reports on Daqneesh, in light of the new story put forth on Syrian state media.
Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency quoted her as saying:
“I think that tomorrow we will send an appropriate letter to their Moscow bureau. We have twice officially called on the television channel to react somehow, to apologize for the fact that there has been a real substitution of information,” she said.
Zakharova added that the CNN report was aimed at “manipulating public opinion.” “I promise that we will not just drop this story as CNN would like.”
It is unclear why Zakharova singled out CNN for criticism since Daqneesh’s story was widely covered by international media. The timing of her comments, several weeks after the boy reappeared, may well be more to do with a scandal at CNN that culminated on June 26 with the resignation of three employees of the station who were involved in the publication of a since-retracted story connecting Anthony Scaramucci, chief executive of Donald Trump’s presidential transition team, with Russia’s Vnesheconombank.
CNN had in fact reported on the reappearance of Daqneesh and his father, relaying his comments as originally broadcast by RT:
“We were very harmed because of the gunmen and how they used things to their benefit with my child. Thank god, he was only slightly wounded. Thank god after the army advanced and retook these areas; we are now back in our homes. The situation now is very good, thank god."
That Daqneesh was not severely injured had already been widely covered last year by western media, including CNN, which reported in August 2016 that the boy had been discharged from hospital within two hours.
Nevertheless, his older brother, Ali, subsequently died from injuries sustained during the same air strike.
As Polygraph.info has previously pointed out, Russian aircraft were likely responsible for the attack that destroyed the Daqneesh family home.
Why then should CNN apologize?
Omran’s father’s expression of support for the regime in June 2017 do not change the fact that his home was bombed and son killed. Nor does it make any difference whether he was a supporter of the ruling Baath party or the rebels at the time of the attack.
It may also be possible that his statements on Syrian state media were made under some form of coercion, as noted by The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen:
“It was unclear if the family had been coerced into conducting the interview. The Syrian government has carried out similar disinformation efforts in the past, promising benefits to defectors or displaced civilians if they speak out against alleged rebel crimes.”
Bearing this in mind, it is worth reading an interview Omran’s father back in August last year, in then-rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo, published by The Telegraph:
He asked to be identified only by his nickname for fear that the Assad regime will seek revenge on a family that has become an unwitting symbol of the Syrian government’s violence against its own people.
Abu Ali winced as he described the seconds after the bomb tore through their flat. “It is very painful to watch your children falling in front of your eyes,” he said.
The blast split the sofa into two halves and Omran fell into the space between them. It took Abu Ali several long seconds to dig himself out of the rubble but once he was free Omran was the first child he reached.”
Of course, these statements may, too, have been made under duress. But the chain of contradictory information regarding Omran’s father’s attitude towards the Syrian regime does not give Zakharova the right to demand an apology of any sort from CNN, working with what data was available to them. Nor does it remove the real reason that Omran’s image became so widely circulated in the days after the airstrike - that the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, under Russian and Syrian bombardment, was truly dire.