Syrian refugee's astonishing story of survival

By James Reynolds
BBC News in southern Turkey

media captionMohammed Ali says he was shot five times, and the bullets are still in his body

Mohammed Ali works at a petrol station in southern Turkey. The job is dreary, customers barely notice him.

But the man selling crisps has one of the most astonishing stories of the Syrian conflict.

It's impossible to verify his account independently - as is the case with stories given by refugees who have to flee their homes on their own without documents or photographs.

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in August 2012, he says he decided to travel from Beirut - where he was working at the time - to visit his family in a village in northern Syria.

One day he needed supplies, so he headed to the city of Aleppo.

"I went there to buy a mobile phone Sim card," he recalls.

"I was stopped at a checkpoint. The (pro-government) gunmen asked me where I was from. They asked for my passport and ID. They took everything I had on me: my phones, my gold rings. They put me in the boot of a car - four other guys were already in it. And they took us to an air force intelligence building.

"After three days with no food or water, late at night, the gunmen told us that they would take us to another station. They took us and they put all of us into a car - there were 21 of us. They drove us to a deserted area."

Second life

Mohammed peeked from his blindfold.

"They put us all on our knees - all 21 of us. They began firing. I passed out when they shot at us. I woke up after 10-15 minutes and saw the gunmen's car leaving. I saw that everybody around me was dead."

Mohammed was seriously injured.

"I was hit by five bullets," he says, pointing to each of the wounds in turn. "One of them hit my ear, one went into my shoulder. Two hit in my leg, and another hit my hip."

He rolls up his trouser leg to show the wounds in his ankle.

"I got up and started walking but kept falling every 10 metres. I knocked on a door and a woman answered and said: 'There is no-one else here - try the other house.'

"Four guys opened the door - I was scared of saying I was shot by intelligence forces - in case they worked for the regime. So I told them that some people shot me and took all my money.

"They asked: 'Where do you want us to take you?' I said: 'Anywhere, I've been bleeding for the last two hours.'"

Mohammed was taken to hospital. After he recovered, he smuggled himself across the border into Turkey where he now struggles to support himself.

Before the war, he got well-paid work as a tailor. Now he eats and sleeps on a mattress on the floor in a room next to the checkout till of the petrol station. The bedroom doesn't even have a chair.

"There is no plan now," he says. He wants to go back into making clothes, but needs documents to prove his identity.

He now has plenty of time to reflect on some haunting questions: what should he do with his second life? Why did he survive when 20 others around him all died ?

"I don't know," he smiles shyly. "Perhaps it's because I was able to withstand the gunfire. In Islam we believe that no-one dies before their time. Perhaps this wasn't my time to die."