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Syrian Broadcaster Dodges Syria's Regime, ISIS And Other Groups

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some weeks ago, a man walked out of Syria. He paid smugglers for his passage across the border. He traveled on to Washington, D.C. He met American political leaders as he works to overthrow Syria's president Bashar al-Assad. Raed Fares is on the side of rebels in Syria's civil war. He runs a radio station. And this is the story of how he just barely survives dodging both the government and extremist groups that operate in his town.

RAED FARES: I started the revolution. I have a dream. And I have to make my dream come true.

INSKEEP: He's trying to do that in a town called Kafranbel. There he runs a media outlet he calls Radio Fresh.

FARES: We have no limits. And because of that, they tried to kill me more than five times.

INSKEEP: He's at risk because he lives in a town where U.S.-backed rebels jostle for power with al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and also with ISIS. He's given more moderate religious leaders air time on his program.

FARES: Just to show that Islam is not like the view of ISIS and al-Qaida.

INSKEEP: Is it dangerous to bring a sheikh on the air to give religious views that might be different than Jabhat al-Nusra's views, for example?

FARES: It's not - I think it's dangerous in somehow because they will try to kill you under the table.

INSKEEP: He means that even extremists cannot publicly attack a cleric. But they can make life harder, as they have made it for Raed Fares. For safety, he lives apart from his family, even though his home is only a short distance from the radio station.

FARES: I live in the office. And I go home, like, every three or four days - just two hours in the day, not in the night.

INSKEEP: Is that because you're so busy or because you don't want to?

FARES: No, no, no.

INSKEEP: It's because you don't want to endanger them.

FARES: Because it's too dangerous to make, like, regular time you go home and come back to office.

INSKEEP: What are some of the ways they've tried to kill you - they, meaning various armed groups.

FARES: They have tried to shoot me like 60 bullets against me. Three were in my chest and my shoulder. It took me, like, three months to recover. I came here to United States just to recover. And that was ISIS.

INSKEEP: You were sure that that was ISIS in that case?

FARES: Yeah. But after that, Jabhat al-Nusra tried to bomb my car. And I was in it. But I survived. And December 2014, Jabhat al-Nusra, they kidnapped me from their checkpoint. And three days in their jail they hang me to the ceiling for six hours. But an activist in Istanbul he came and talked to them and convinced them to release me. And early this year, they attacked my Radio Fresh station and attacked the women's center which belongs to us - the same organization...

INSKEEP: Women's center, OK.

FARES: Yeah. And, you know, you have to face all of that while you are fighting against Assad and the terrorism.

INSKEEP: In that incredible sequence, you said that at one point, when imprisoned by Jabhat al-Nusra, you were hanged from the ceiling.

FARES: Yeah, from handcuffs with chain to the ceiling. I imagined all what's happened with me - the five years in the revolution - in that six hours.

INSKEEP: I want people to know that you just told that story of dangling from the ceiling while smiling.

FARES: Yep (laughter) but it's not real laughing. You laugh because what's going on.

INSKEEP: That's Syrian broadcaster Raed Fares during a visit to Washington. When we met, he was about to return to Syria, having paid smugglers to get out of the country, he would have to pay smugglers to get back in. He says that at least, thanks to low demand, the price of the return trip is lower. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.