Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy has described his dramatic escape from the besieged Syrian city of Homs – a journey undertaken in pitch darkness while dodging snipers, Syrian army patrols and artillery fire.
It was followed by a ‘painful one-mile motorbike ride’through a tunnel that Conroy was lucky to survive, the exit to which was shelled shortly after he escaped.
Conroy was hit by shrapnel in the leg and stomach in an attack last month that resulted in the death of Sunday Times veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.
He is now recovering at a London hospital after spending days in a safe house as the Baba Amr district of Homs came under heavy fire from Syrian forces – an attack he described in yesterday’s Sunday Times as ‘a systematic slaughter of the civilian population”.
Last week Conroy was smuggled out of Syria with the help of Syrian rebels. He told the Sunday Times ‘There was an urgency that was contagious,’he said.
‘I hadn’t left the building for five days. The first thing I noticed was that the street was gone. When I’d gone in, there had been houses all around us. Now, it was like Grozny [Chechnya], black stubs of trees, you couldn’t see the pavement for rubble.’
According to yesterday’s report, the activists ‘bundled Conroy and three other journalists hiding with him into a convoy of cars and sped out of the city, stopping twice to pick up more wounded.
‘They then drove ‘very quickly and very painfully along shell-damaged roads’ for about 20 minutes, before arriving at the mouth of the tunnel which had been used by activists to bring food, medicines and ammunition into the city.
‘Conroy had sustained a serious leg wound in the blast that killed Colvin, and as he got out of the car, his bandage began to unravel. ‘One guy looks across and says ‘Get Paul in first, his bandage needs sorting and he can’t walk, get him in the tunnel.’ That was my piece of luck, the bandage coming undone.’
‘He was lowered down a 15ft vertical drop into the tunnel, then taken by motorbike for about a mile. The tunnel – a sewer or storm drain – was only 5ft high, so he had to crouch down on the bike.’
The report continued: ‘Halfway along they came across a man carrying a 10-year-old boy whose lower body had been shredded by a mortar blast: ‘You could see the bones in his legs. He was conscious, so he was put [on the bike] behind me’.
‘Part of the tunnel had collapsed after earlier shelling, so Conroy had to drag himself a stretcher for several hundred yards.’
Once they were out of the tunnel Conroy had to dodge army patrols and was ‘hauled over several high walls and hidden in safe houses”, before finally making it across the border into Lebanon ‘after more than a day on the run”.