Amar Kanim was just a little boy when Saddam Hussein ordered a napalm attack on his city of Basra, Iraq, in March 1991.
He was busy playing outside when he suddenly heard gunshots and sirens. Kanim and his sister fled, taking cover in a warehouse with about 30 others.
“There was a huge bang above us and a bomb came crashing down through the levels of the building,” Kanim said in an exclusive interview with BBC Panorama.
“There was a blinding white flash. I couldn’t find my sister. All I could do was cover my eyes.”
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In the span of a moment, Kanim lost everything that he had ever known and loved. Although the boy miraculously survived the violent attack, the bomb had stolen his family and home. The attack also burnt his skin from head to toe, leaving Kanim disfigured and in horrible pain.
It wasn’t long before Kanim became a worldwide symbol for the terror Saddam Hussein wrought on his own people. British politician Lady Emma Nicholson took the orphan under her wing and led him to safety in the U.K., where he still resides today, according to the BBC.
Although Lady Nicholson and her husband raised Kanim as their own, the boy refused to be officially adopted. He hoped instead that he would someday reunite with members of his biological family.
“I feel blessed. Everything makes sense. My life is finally complete.” Latest from the BBC long read team – Huge thanks to @jonkay01 @andyalcroft @westnewsprod for the incredible story https://t.co/ArEmwHFbkm pic.twitter.com/j6NKwnW6uP
— Kathryn Westcott (@_k_westcott) May 13, 2019
“It’s the most horrible position to be in because, without a family, you feel like you don’t belong to anyone. You feel like you’re born out of nothing,” Kanim said.
For almost 30 years, Kanim believed his immediate family to be dead.
Then, he began receiving strange Facebook messages from a stranger who claimed he’d found Kanim’s mother.
The man sent Kanim a news clip in which a woman in a black hijab insisted that the long lost war orphan was her son.
Initially, he didn’t believe the woman in the blurry video could be his mother. However, the nagging familiarity convinced him to rewatch the video, and he decided to try locating the mysterious woman.
Through social media and the help of the BBC team, Kanim eventually got in contact with the woman and her husband. Both Kanim and the woman agreed to a DNA test.
“I want it to be true,” Kanim told the BBC. “I really want to believe it. But for 30 years I’ve been alone. For 30 years I’ve been told my family is dead. And now they might not be.”
He added,” It’s like a movie. It doesn’t make sense. I need proof.”
After an agonizing two weeks, the test returned positive.
“I’ve got a mum. . . I couldn’t be happier about this. Nobody loves you more than your mother,” Kanim said.
Kanim immediately flew to Iraq to be reunited with Zahra, the mother he never knew he had, the BBC reported. Nearly 30 years after the attack that tore their family apart, mother and son embraced once again.
Upon reuniting, the puzzle pieces of Kanim’s life began snapping back together. His mother revealed that he had a younger brother, Tahrir. She also informed Kanim that he was three years older than he thought and that his birthday was in just a few days.
The “orphan” who’s been reunited with his mum. Thirty years after Amar and Zara were separated by war, they finally meet again in Iraq. Our full exclusive story @BBCPanorama tonight. @BBCOne at 8.30pm #tissuesonstandby @andyalcroft @westnewsprod @jennymparks pic.twitter.com/FBShtFa8bS
— Jon Kay (@jonkay01) May 13, 2019
Kanim also discovered that the black mark on his arm was a family tattoo. The mark, which his mother and brother have as well, is intended to remind the family that they belong together.
Although Kanim eventually had to return to his home in the U.K., he did so with renewed hope and joy. His story is proof that the bond of family can be much stronger than war and terror.
“For so long, my life has been empty, but now I have a purpose. I want to come back and visit my family again soon,” Kanim said.
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