An iconic image showing a stunned, bloodied five-year-old Syrian boy sitting in the back of an ambulance after being rescued from the rubble following an airstrike in Aleppo is fake, according to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The haunting image shows Omran Daqneesh sitting on an orange chair inside an ambulance covered in blood and dust following an airstrike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Qaterji in August. The child was rescued along with his three siblings and parents by Civil Defense rescuers, known as the White Helmets.
Speaking with Swiss broadcaster SRF on Tuesday, President Bashar al-Assad was shown the image of boy and was asked if he wanted to say something to the Daqneesh family.
“There’s something I would like to say to you first of all,” Assad told journalist Sandro Brotz. “I want you to go back after my interview and go to the Internet to see the same picture of the same child with his sister, both were rescued by what they call them in the West, White Helmets.
“They were rescued twice, each one in different incidents and just as part of the publicity of those White Helmets. None of these incidents were true,” the president said.
In August, a doctor in Aleppo identified the boy when Daqneesh was brought into a hospital only known as “M10.” Daqneesh was treated for head wounds and was later released.
The Associated Press spoke with the photojournalist who captured the iconic image.
“We were passing them from one balcony to the other,” Mahmoud Raslan said of the rescue.
WATCH: The video of a five-year-old Syrian boy being pulled from rubble has gone viral as it depicts the haunting – and heartbreaking – reality of the country’s civil war.
The photographer told the news agency he had passed along three lifeless bodies before receiving the wounded boy.
However, according to Assad, those images of the child were “forged.”
“You can have it manipulated and it is manipulated,” Assad said. “I’m going to send you those two pictures and they are on the Internet, just to see that this is a false picture, not a real one. We have real pictures of children being harmed but this one in specific is a forged one.”
Daqneesh’s 10-year-old brother Ali died in hospital as a result of the wounds the child sustained during the August airstrike.