Syria Chemical Attack Survivor Haunted by Memories a Year Later

On the anniversary of chemical attacks in Syria, one survivor shares his story.

— -- It was right after morning prayers and still dark, recalls 28-year-old Qusai Zakarya, when the alarms started to go off and rockets hit his suburban neighborhood outside Damascus last August.

Though the country had been engulfed in war for over two years, this was different. “It was something we never witnessed before,” Zakarya said, and since he could not see the gas he was not sure what was happening.

“You can barely smell it. It’s like heavy air. It’s like you take a breath and you feel you breathed something heavy,” he said. The reality of a chemical weapons attack did not sink in until his neighbor arrived with two young children who were vomiting. They rushed to the hospital, but Zakarya collapsed along the way. His heart stopped and he was pronounced dead. He awoke almost an hour later, only when a mourning friend shook him.

“For me it is always like one minute ago,” he continued. “It's like a printed image in my mind. Every detail, every breath that I took, every woman or children I saw dying for suffocating.”

“This is something I cannot forget and just look the other way.”

On Thursday, he participated in a demonstration in front of the White House to mark the anniversary of the attack.

“I think my duty, so the world will know someday how brutal and terrifying that day was,” he said.

“People forget the humanity behind the numbers,” Attar said.

“All we asked for is to help us take away the Assad ability to using barrel bombs… and especially chemical weapons to keep punishing the Syrian people for asking for their freedom.”