Sunday, 20 September 2015
The Road to Damascus
'He was not, however, as prepared for how the journey would open his own eyes to danger and suffering. In Kafr Zita, a town of 17,000 four miles south of Khan Shaykhun, Austin shadowed the rebels during a four-day battle with the regime. They were a disorganized and motley bunch, dressed in tracksuits and jeans and wielding machine guns, Molotov cocktails, and RPGs against the regime’s Russian tanks and helicopters. At one point during the battle, a helicopter fired on a pickup truck that Austin was riding in, and he got separated from el-Zour for four hours. A few days later, the Syrian army set fire to houses in town, leaving behind smoldering piles of rubble. When Austin returned to survey the destruction, he ducked into one of the scorched homes to take pictures and found himself standing in charred human remains. Later that day he photographed some chilling graffiti, spray-painted in Arabic on a stone wall near an abandoned Syrian army checkpoint: “Don’t worry, Bashar, you have a military that will drink blood.”
His time as a Marine had given him a keen understanding of military tactics. “He could tell you by the angles at which these helicopters were trying to chase rebel convoys that they were purposefully trying to miss,” one journalist told me. “That was a great insight because it illustrates that there are elements in the Assad military—Sunni pilots—that are not trying to prosecute this war and are sympathizing with the opposition.”
The Tices got a sense of Austin’s impact on Syrians on September 7, when demonstrators at the weekly Friday protests in Yabroud held up posters bearing Austin’s picture and calling for his release. “Freedom for Austin Tice, who lighted Syria with his lens,” one read in Arabic. “Seeing that protest was actually one of the most emotional things for me,” Marc said. “He talked to a lot of people in Yabroud and obviously made a big impression on them.” '