A Very Busy Man Behind the Syrian Civil War’s Casualty Count
Andrew Testa for The New York Times
COVENTRY, England — Military analysts in Washington follow its body counts of Syrian and rebel soldiers to gauge the course of the war. The United Nations and human rights organizations scour its descriptions of civilian killings for evidence in possible war crimes trials. Major news organizations, including this one, cite its casualty figures.
Yet, despite its central role in the savage civil war, the grandly named Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is virtually a one-man band. Its founder, Rami Abdul Rahman, 42, who fled Syria 13 years ago, operates out of a semidetached red-brick house on an ordinary residential street in this drab industrial city.
Using the simplest, cheapest Internet technology available, Mr. Abdul Rahman spends virtually every waking minute tracking the war in Syria, disseminating bursts of information about the fighting and the death toll. What began as sporadic, rudimentary e-mails about protests early in the uprising has swelled into a torrent of statistics and details.
All sides in the conflict accuse him of bias, and even he acknowledges that the truth can be elusive on Syria’s tangled and bitter battlefields. That, he says, is what prompts him to keep a tight leash on his operation.
“I need to control everything myself,” said Mr. Abdul Rahman, a bald, bearish, affable man. “I am a simple citizen from a simple family who has managed to accomplish something huge using simple means — all because I really believe in what I am doing.”
He does not work alone. Four men inside Syria help to report and collate information from more than 230 activists on the ground, a network rooted in Mr. Abdul Rahman’s youth, when he organized clandestine political protests.