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Young sniper victim: They call me ‘girl with no eyes’

Maryam Samir, a 12yo from Mosul, was shot in the head by an IS sniper

Somehow, Maryam Samir survived the war in Mosul but there was a moment several months ago when her father Ahmad left her for dead.

She was lying on the ground, covered in blood, after an Islamic State sniper had shot her in the head. The bullets were flying and her family were several hundred metres from safety.

Still, Maryam’s mother told Ahmad to pick her up, despite the noise and the terror they felt. “You can’t leave her here,” she said. “Maryam is our daughter.”

Four months on and Maryam is, in many ways, a typical 12-year-old girl. She likes to read and dress her dolls. She spends plenty of time at her uncle’s house where her cousins are keen to play.

But Maryam does not look like other 12-year-olds. The gunman’s bullet sliced through her skull, then travelled through her right eye and both sides of her nose. Her face bears the marks of this savage act and her mind is consumed with uncertainty.

In an interview conducted at her uncle’s place, she said: “I keep thinking about getting my eyes back and about being normal again. Maybe my father can get his job and our house back as well?”

Maryam Samir was hit by an IS sniper's bullet in Mosul. Here she is at the hospital
Image: Maryam is not eligible for help because she still has vision in one eye

We first met Maryam in a badly overcrowded rehabilitation clinic back in July.

The hard-pressed physician running the place, Dr Saad Salem, had run out of just about everything he needed, including crutches, wheel chairs or artificial limbs. He could not help the girl with the disfigured face either.

According to the rules, Maryam’s not eligible for treatment or financial support because she still has some vision in one eye.

“Come back in January and we’ll take another look,” shouted Dr Saad, as Maryam and her mother squeezed their way out of his office.

A few weeks later, a couple of local donors paid for Maryam to go to hospital in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Surgeons there removed the shrapnel in her skull and what was left of her right eye. But Maryam still needs her right eye socket and nose rebuilt and skin tissue grafts positioned on the surface.

The doctor who treated Maryam Samir, who was hit in the head by an IS sniper bullet, Dr Jalal Fattah
Image: The doctor who treated Maryam says she needs expensive treatment

The man who performed much of the initial work, Dr Jalal Fattah, told me the additional surgery would cost about £5,000 – a mighty sum in war-ravaged Iraq. But it would give Maryam a chance at a normal life.

“If you can correct these big defects now she can grow normally in psychological and physical ways and have a normal development.

“Otherwise, she may face depression and other psychiatric issues, I am afraid.”

Maryam Samir with her toys at home in Mosul. She was hit in the head by an IS sniper's bullet
Image: Maryam does not like to go outside because the other children call her names

Maryam told me that she already has problems fitting in. She rarely goes outside because the kids at school told her she is unpleasant to look at.

“They call me ‘the girl with no eyes’,” she said.

“I sit by the front door of the house and sometimes I play with my toys. Other times I just stay indoors.”

Her father, Ahmad Samir Abdullah, says the teasing and verbal abuse breaks his heart but he does not have money for further treatment.

“I haven’t got anything for the operations. We don’t have anything to cover her expenses. Everything (we own) was lost during the liberation of the city.”

Maryam Samir, 12, was hit in the head by an IS sniper's bullet. Here she looks over Mosul with her brother
Image: Maryam Samir, 12, looks out over Mosul with her brother

Ahmad used to drive a taxi – a shiny Volkswagen Golf – but it was destroyed in the final battle for the city by a bomb or a missile strike – he is not really sure which. Without a job, he thinks Maryam will probably have to do without.

“I’ll try the Iraqi government in Baghdad and see if they can help us to continue her treatment but if they can’t help we’ll leave it there.

“We are powerless, we have only our patience.”

Like the hard-pressed city she lives in, Maryam longs for an ordinary life. She may not feel comfortable at school but she dreams of being a teacher, of educating pupils in a peaceful place – and for the time being, it is a dream that sustains her.

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    Far-right party to enter Austrian government

    Heinz-Christian Strache
    Image: The FPO’s Heinz-Christian Strache is tipped to be deputy chancellor

    Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

    The head of the conservative People’s Party (OVP), Sebastian Kurz, has struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

    The FPO will take charge of the foreign, interior and defence ministries, among others, while its leader, 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, will be deputy chancellor.

    Mr Kurz, 31, will be the youngest leader in Europe. His OVP will run ministries including finance and justice.

    When the OVP won Austria’s election on 15 October it did so with a hard line on immigration – a policy which often overlapped with that of the FPO.

    The FPO was third, taking 26% of the vote.

    “Nobody has anything to fear,” said the FPO’s secretary general and Austria’s next interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Sebastian Kurz says he wants to increase security and combat illegal immigraton

    Mr Kurz held a joint news conference with Mr Strache and told reporters: “Our aims are quite clear.

    “We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system.”

    Mr Kurz, known as ‘wunderwuzzi’ or ‘whizz-kid’, added: “And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration.”

    While Mr Kurz has said his administration will be pro-European, both he and Mr Strache have expressed doubts about further social integration.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Mr Kurz, 31, is Europe’s youngest leader

    The two men presented their agreement to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader who narrowly beat the FPO in a presidential vote in 2015.

    Mr Van der Bellen, who has the right to reject ministers, has said a new government could be sworn in early next week if everything went to plan.

    Following their meeting, Mr Van der Bellen said they had agreed it was in Austria’s “national interest” to remain at the “centre of a strong European Union”.

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    The FPO’s success mirrors that of similar parties across Europe. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is now the second-largest in the Netherlands, the Front National in France was involved in a run-off for the presidency in May and representatives from Germany’s AfD have entered the Bundestag.

    When the FPO was last in government, under the late Joerg Haider, other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest.

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