At 2 pm, on Wednesday March 18, my phone starts ringing furiously, and my computer fills up with text messages on Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, on all social media.
Four members of A Demand For Action, ADFA, are in Tunis, at a Minority Rights Group, MRG, training, to learn how to safeguard minority rights. ADFA is fighting for the survival of the Assyrians, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Yazidis and other minority groups in the Middle East.
Late into the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, to 1.30 am, our members were chatting with our four colleagues in Tunis.
I'M STARING at the screens of my phone and computer where reports from a number of news agencies are appearing. Seven tourists have been killed by terrorists in a hostage situation at a museum.
We start calling our members in Tunis, we are texting them, and sending messages on Facebook. No response. We are panicking, almost. Linda, one of our members, tells us to calm down. We start a chat group; Linda is telling who is to do what. I call the MRG headquarters in London; they know nothing yet. I can tell that they are nervous and scared. I ask them to contact their colleagues in Tunis; we have to try to find out where our members are. They promise to do that. I call the hotel; our four ADFA members checked out at 10.54 am. Three hours before the terror attack. What if they decided to go to the museum before taking a taxi to the airport!
The Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet has just published photos of the hostages. None of our friends appear in the photos. We call MRG again; they don’t know whether any of the course members went to the museum.
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We call the airport in Tunis; no one picks up. Panic is spreading. “No more trips to Africa and the Middle East,” one of us writes. “Never again”. Another one: “It happened in Paris and Copenhagen; it can happen anywhere.” The only thing we know is that they checked out of the hotel, that they were in close proximity to the place of the attack, and that they were going to visit a synagogue.
"We are panicking, almost."
While we are frantically calling and texting, trying to get information on our ADFA members, one ADFA member in Sweden tells us that he has gotten hold of one of ”our” members in Tunis. She says that they are fine and at the airport. They didn’t know about the terror attack. Tunisian telephone lines and the Internet were not working. I let go of my computer and mobile and let the tears flow freely.
The day before the terror attack in Tunis I talked with “Ana”, who lives in a small Swedish town. She was born in northeastern Syria. On February 23, the terrorist organization Daesh kidnapped nine of her family and friends. They took altogether 232 people, most of them children and women. It is impossible for anyone who is not in Ana’s situation to even imagine what she is thinking, how she is feeling. She hasn’t slept since that night her family members were kidnapped. Now, people around her have forced her to take sleeping pills and psych medication. She lives in a small Swedish community, with a normal middle class life. Well, at least she did until the war broke out in Syria. “We are all kidnapped; no one can live a normal life. We are all waiting for our family members to hade have their heads cut off in front of a camera or to see our nieces and nephews sold at the market. Why? Well, just because we were born into a different religion. Or are atheists and have no religion at all. We are praying for them, that they will return safely, but a month has already passed, and we still haven’t heard anything.”
TODAY, we got a little closer to Ana’s reality. For a few dreadful hours we feared that our four friends could have been victims of a terrorist attack. All of us felt that we were losing our mind. I was shaking all over for several hours afterwards.
The times are changing. There is a new world order. Our members are safe, but tens of thousands of people are not. And 23 innocent people were killed in Tunis.