Mohammad Fahd, 20, was hit by a landmine, an explosive device hidden or concealed designed to destroy or disable when a person steps on it. “I was on my way to the bakery to buy bread with my father and sister when I stepped on a landmine. My father and sister were killed instantly. I was 18… I want to go anywhere. Europe, Canada. I need to get out of here because one day I would like to have a family.” (Annie Sakkab)

When I Fell:
Victims of Syria’s War


On Nov. 2015, 9-year-old Basil Al Riyabi was struck by a landmine that cost him both his legs, his left hand and left eye. “I didn’t know it was a mine, so I started playing with it and it exploded. All my friends died,” said Mohammed, as he sat on his bed at a rehabilitation centre in Amman, Jordan,

When I first saw Basil, he was running across the hallway on his amputated legs, talking and playing with his adult friends. He was shy and was hesitant to speak with me. It took me few visits before Basil felt comfortable telling his story. He sat on his bed with his shorts and striped T-shirt next to his friend, Ibrahim, 13, whose leg was damaged after the bunker he was hiding in was struck by a rocket. Soon after, he fled Syria for Jordan.

What shocked me most was how much these two young children knew about weapons: Basil could distinguish different types of rockets, bullets and the materials necessary to make barrel bombs. He even knew which ones are Russian made and which ones are not. When he made a mistake, Ibrahim would correct him.

I had never heard of a barrel bomb before the Syrian civil war. I’m not even sure when they were first manufactured. But the idea of compressing explosives, fuel, irregular shaped steel fragments, shrapnel, chemicals and oil into a cylinder and then dropping it from a plane on heavily populated areas just seems so unimaginable. Civilians have a mere 10 seconds to run or hide. But when you don’t know where it’s coming from, you just have to sit and wait and hope that you don’t die.

It was a moment of shock for me when I realized the extent to which weaponry is designed by manufacturing companies to kill and destroy in the most inhumane and horrific ways. Governments and arms companies make billions of dollars every year out of warfare to sell their inventions to both sides of the conflict to make as much money as possible. I’m left wondering how those individuals, who are creating these incredibly destructive weapons, can sleep at night. In the end, what we are left with are collective and individual stories of death, destruction, murder and irreversible damage, with no government, corporation or individual that is made accountable for these tragedies.

When I Fell is a collection of stories from the children and adults I met at the rehabilitation centre, recollecting the moment they were hit— and the weapon that struck them.

Mohammad Fahd, 20, waits for a free haircut at the rehabilitation centre. (Annie Sakkab)
Ibrahim Sarhan, 13, was hit by BM-30 Smerch, a heavy multiple rocket launcher and one of the deadliest artillery rocket system, sometimes referred to as a weapon of mass destruction, as its rockets destroy every living creature. “The first time I saw a rocket I was 7 and I was watching TV. It was really scary. The day I was hit we were under siege. I was with my family, my sister, my three brothers, my mother and father and all my uncles in a bunker. I heard the first rocket, then the second and the third. After the sixth one I heard a whistling sound and then I was unconscious. When I woke up, My father told me that my mother, sisters and two of my brothers and my uncles are all dead. I was 9.” (Annie Sakkab)
Basil AL Riyabi, 9, lost his legs, left hand and right eye to a landmine he played with. All his friends died instantly. “I felt I was flying from the explosion and suddenly I didn’t see anything. It went completely black. When I woke up in the hospital and I looked I couldn’t see my legs. It was the most ugliest moment of my life… All I want is to see my mom. I may die before I’m 10 years old.” (Annie Sakkab)
Basil AL Riyabi, 9, tries his prosthetic legs for the first time at a clinic in Jordan. (Annie Sakkab)
Basil AL Riyabi, 9, tries his prosthetic legs for the first time at a clinic in Jordan. (Annie Sakkab)
Basil AL Riyabi, 9, and Ibrahim Sarhan, 13, play together on a cellphone at the rehabilitation centre in Amman, Jordan. (Annie Sakkab)
Ala’a Al Shar’a. Age: 15. Weapon: Mortar Shell. Purpose: An indirect fire weapon, a mortar is used to fire the explosive shell at low velocities and short ranges. They are often used by insurgents to terrorize civilians and are launched indiscriminately. Mortar shells killed 17 children and injured approximately 50 people in an attack on an educational complex in Damascus April 29, 2014, according to Human Rights Watch. —- “I was sitting with my uncle at home, when a mortar shell exploded next to our house. My brother was hit in the leg. My Uncle was hit in the head, chest and legs. Thankfully they didn’t die. I got shrapnels in my face. My mom passed away when a missile hit the mosque we were hiding in after our house was destroyed.” —- Ala’a and her family were under siege for three years before fleeing their hometown of Tall Shahab. They walked for days to reach Lebanon going through landmine areas, and another three days to reach Jordan. —- “ When I saw my uncle come through our font door after three years. I cried. I cried a lot.”
Ala’a Al Shar’a (left), 15, aids Salam Al Jundi (centre), 14, walk on her prosthetic leg, while Basil watches cartoons. All three live in a rehabilitation centre for refugees injured in the Syrian civil war in Amman, Jordan. (Annie Sakkab)
Sulaiman Mohammad, 26, was hit by a sniper rifle. Snipers are trained to kill with one shot aiming for the central nervous system to paralyze instantly. Sulaiman was fighting for the Free Syrian Army when he was hit. He was a sports teacher in the army before he defected a year after the war erupted. “I lost three of my brothers to the war. I saw children killed, people shot, and women raped. In one day I saw 200 people die.” (Annie Sakkab)
Sulaiman Mohammad, 26, poses for a portrait. (Annie Sakkab)
​Umm Saleh, 40, hit by Katyusha Rocket Launcher, meant to deliver a large blow of rockets all at once. “I heard a loud noise and a rocket went straight through our house into the bathroom. I was thrown out of my chair and all I could hear are screams. Then I was unconscious. My husband lost 5 sisters and suffered from shrapnels in his stomach. I suffered full paralysis… “All I want is to see my children again and I can’t.” (Annie Sakkab)
Salam Al Jundi, 14, was hit by a barrel bomb, a cylindrical container or an oil barrel filled with high-powered explosives, fuel and irregular shaped steel fragments, shrapnel, and possibly chemicals or oil, and then dropped from a helicopter or airplane. Their inaccuracy and indiscriminate use in populated civilian areas is devastating.” Salam was walking with her brother and cousin to buy food when they were hit. A nearby car exploded and landed on her brother. He survived but suffered a broken pelvis and shrapnels to the head and body. Her cousin was hit by shrapnels that caused her intestines to drop out of her body and died instantly. She was 11. “I didn’t feel it when I dropped to the ground.” (Annie Sakkab)
Salam Al Jundi, 14, is comforted by a resident who looks after the children at the rehabilitation centre. She is considered like a mother to the children at the centre. She is a refugee who suffered loss and dislocation. Her name is concealed for privacy. (Annie Sakkab)
Salam Al Jundi, 14, poses for a portrait at the rehabilitation centre in Amman, Jordan.” (Annie Sakkab)
Haitham Yousef, 23, was hit by a Kalashnikov, a semi-automatic and automatic assault rifle. It’s a dominant weapon amongst armies due to the simplicity of it’s design. Haitham was an accountant. He joined the Free Syrian Army after he was imprisoned and tortured twice. He was shot in the neck. The bullet went through his spinal chord and out of his chest creating a hole in his lung and suffered paralysis from the neck down. His legs were amputated due to blisters. “I was constantly beaten up. They just wanted to humiliate and break me because I’m a young man. They didn’t know all that beating created anger. I was no longer afraid to die.” (Annie Sakkab)
Mohammad Maleeha, 29, was shot with a Radically Invasive Projectile (RIP) bullet designed to explode inside the body ravaging tissues in all directions. Mohammad was shot with two bullets causing his insides to explode out of his body. He was imprisoned and tortured for a year before he joined the Free Syrian Army. “If I don’t fight for my honor, my family and my neighbours, What good is my life. ” (Annie Sakkab)

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Written By
Annie Sakkab

Annie Sakkab

A Palestinian, born and raised in Jordan, freelance photographer Annie Sakkab is based in Canada and the Middle East. As a visual storyteller and social documentarian, she is drawn to explore the customs, lifestyles and values that characterize her subjects. Annie seeks long-form narrative with a focus on women’s issues and social justice. With her work, she raises questions of identity and awareness of the experiences of exile, uprooting and displacement among marginalized groups. Her long term project, ‘A Familiar Stranger,’ challenges contemporary western views and constructs of Middle Eastern women, and raises larger questions of how we perceive repression and freedom. A participant in the Missouri Photo Workshop in 2014 and Eddie Adams Workshop in 2017, Annie won the News Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC) NPOY Student photographer of The Year Award, CPOY College Photographer of the Year Award: Award of Excellence in Portraiture, and the NPAC 1st Place Feature Photo in 2016 and 2017, amongst other awards. Her work has also been recognized by Ontario Newspaper Awards, Ontario Community Newspapers Association, and Loyalist College faculty for commitment to and proficiency in editorial portraiture, documentary photojournalism and storytelling. Annie worked for various Canadian and International organizations and medias including New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg, Die Zeit, NBC News, MONOCLE Magazine and Arab News, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mercy Corps, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), and is a member of Muse Projects and Women Photograph. She has also completed AKE group Hostile Environment Training in 2017. A participant in the Missouri Photo Workshop in 2014 and Eddie Adams Workshop in 2017, Annie won the News Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC) NPOY Student photographer of The Year Award, CPOY College Photographer of the Year Award: Award of Excellence in Portraiture, and the NPAC 1st Place Feature Photo in 2016 and 2017, amongst other awards. Her work has also been recognized by Ontario Newspaper Awards, Ontario Community Newspapers Association, and Loyalist College faculty for commitment to and proficiency in editorial portraiture, documentary photojournalism and storytelling. Annie worked for various Canadian and International organizations and medias including United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mercy Corps, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg, Die Zeit, NBC News, MONOCLE Magazine and Arab News, and is a member of Muse Projects and Women Photograph. She has also completed AKE group Hostile Environment Training in 2017.