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From Aleppo to New York: Bana Alabed meets Colin Kaepernick

The Syrian girl who came to symbolise suffering of children in the war meets US footballer who has led protests over police violence against black Americans
Bana Alabed met American footballer Colin Kaepernick (@AlabedBana/Twitter)

Her tweets about living under shelling and siege in eastern Aleppo in late 2016 became a cause celebre that was eventually embraced by the likes of Harry Potter author JK Rowling. 

A year later, after managing to flee Syria to Turkey with her family, eight-year-old Syrian girl Bana Alabed is in the US to launch a book about her life and her family's struggle as refugees. 

While there she met American footballer Colin Kaepernick, who has come to symbolise the protest against state-sanctioned lethal violence against black people.

Bana and her mother, Fatemah, started the Twitter account with the goal of highlighting the realities and horrors of life under siege. Sharing videos, photos and the thoughts of Syrian civilians caught within a civil war, the account has now gathered a following of 336,000 on Twitter.

Since leaving Syria, Bana has met prominent figures, including world leaders, Nobel Peace prize winners and now, Kaepernick.

The former San Francisco 49ers footballer began protesting against US police brutality by refusing to stand for the national anthem during NFL football games in August 2016. He since parted company with the team.

The protests have since spread with many NFL players kneeling during NFL matches. Donald Trump, while campaigning for president, said NFL players who refused to stand for the anthem should be fired. "'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired,'" Trump advised NFL owners to say last year.

Bana has also tackled President Trump over his ban on refugees and citizens from several Muslim countries. In a tweet in February she wrote: "Am I a terrorist?"

Dreams of peace

Her account first went live on 24 September 2016 and Bana’s first tweets had one common and prominent theme: the desire for peace.

'I'm reading to forget the war'

Pictured smiling at her desk with a book open on her desk beside a doll propped on the side, Bana's profile picture shared the message "I'm reading to forget the war." 

Her love of fiction got her noticed by the author of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling, after Fatemah tweeted the author. 

Loss and rubble 

Just as others living under siege have lost their homes due to air strikes and rockets, the Alabed's house was destroyed in the fighting.

After being forced to leave Aleppo, Bana's account disappeared for a while causing alarm on social media. She was safely evacuated, and pictures of her quickly circulated, assuring her followers of her safety.

Turkey's president 

Alabed met Turkish President Recep Tayib Erdogan shortly after her evacuation from East Aleppo. Erdogan sent a special representative to Syria to meet Bana’s family and have them airlifted out of the country to Turkey, the New York Times reported.

Russian media and some US critics have claimed Alabed has been used for propaganda against the government of Bashar al-Assad and that her interviews with Western media in English were scripted.

Alabed has also met with Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist who was known as “The Mother of the Revolution”. She was awarded the prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in "nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work in Yemen."

Alabed published her book Dear World this month. I am happy to announce my book will be published by Simon & Schuster. The world must end all the wars now in every part of the world,” Bana tweeted to her followers.

The book recount hers and her mother's struggle in Aleppo during the war and her family's life as refugees.