A 26-year-old Syrian gay man told the AP that even two years after fleeing to Turkey, he wakes up shaken by nightmares that he is about to be hurled from a building. The man spoke on condition that he be identified as Daniel Halaby, the name he now uses in his activism tracking IS atrocities, and that the city in Turkey where he lives not be named for his own safety.
Halaby says a childhood friend who became radicalized and joined IS betrayed him to the militants in 2013, forcing him to flee his home city of Aleppo.
“He knew everything about me, such as being secular and gay. … I am sure he is the one who gave my name to Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
At that time, in mid-2013, IS had just started to spread from neighboring Iraq into Syria. It didn’t yet hold the large stretches of territory across both countries that it would capture the next year. Instead, its fighters pushed into rebel-held areas in Syria and tried to dominate other rebels, often clashing with them for control and imposing the group’s strict law wherever they could.
In September 2013, IS fighters besieged the Aleppo neighborhood where Halaby lived with his family, trying to wrest it from the rebel Free Syrian Army. The two sides negotiated over an end to the siege and, during the talks, IS gave the rebels a list of people they demanded be handed over to them. Halaby said he learned his name was on that list.
He quickly escaped to Turkey.
There, his bedroom is decorated with a flag of the Syrian opposition and a rainbow banner that covers an entire wall. His parents, who remain in Aleppo, refuse to talk to him because of his sexual orientation. When he watches videos of gays being killed, he said, “What breaks my heart most is that I feel helpless.”
Life for gays in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, was always hidden, Halaby said. When the secular-led peaceful protests erupted against President Bashar Assad in 2011, he said he quickly joined, sure they would lead to a democratic government “that will respect everyone no matter their religion, ethnicity, sect or sexuality.”
“We were very naive,” he said. “What happened was exactly the opposite.”