Seven-year-old Bana Alabed and her mother Fatemah had been tweeting the horrors of life under siege from rebel-held eastern Aleppo for the last few months, offering their 200,000 Twitter followers a visceral, terrifying glimpse of life in a war zone. On Dec 4., their account went dark, causing ripples of worry around the world.
The last tweet from her account before Sunday’s silence read, “We are sure the army is capturing us now. We will see each other another day dear world. Bye. – Fatemah.”
Today, the BBC learned from a source that Alabed and her mother are safe, at an undisclosed location. Around 23 hours after her Twitter account went offline, the account came alive again. However, the latest tweet, ending with a “goodbye,” was as unsettling as the ones preceding it.
Alabed’s blistering accounts of bombed homes around her and graphic images of her best friend’s death were eerily reminiscent of Anne Frank’s heart-wrenching wartime accounts during World War II. The aspiring teacher described her hometown of Aleppo as “a very big daily slaughterhouse.”
Alabed and her family had reported that they were on the run after their home was destroyed during bombings on Nov. 27. Three days later, the mother and daughter said that they had received death threats, and they feared that the “Syrian army will target us soon because of our accounts and messages.” On Dec. 1, a tweet from the account, attributed to Bana, said, “I have no medicine, no home, no clean water. This will make me die even before a bomb kill me.”
When the account went offline, the Twitterverse expressed its concern for the young girl with the hashtag #WhereIsBana.
The author J.K. Rowling, who sent electronic versions of her Harry Potter books to Alabed, also retweeted a series of posts about the hunt for Alabed.
After a short-lived ceasefire broke in September, relentless bombardment sent the death toll in eastern Aleppo spiraling upwards of 1,000. The city’s last functioning hospital was destroyed by mid-November, so there is little help for those injured. Khaled Khatib, a photographer for Syria’s volunteer civil defense group, called The White Helmets, posted a dire warning on Twitter: “Aleppo is going to die.”
Some have expressed skepticism about Alabed and her experiences, suggesting the account may be a hoax. In the epicenter of Syria’s war, her phone is charged, her connection is unfettered and in pictures and videos she looks like a regular child, well-dressed and groomed. Still she continues to post images and videos.
In any case, while it’s a relief to many that Alabed’s account has been reactivated, the region’s heavy fighting continues, and there’s reason to worry for the safety of everyone living in the besieged city.