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72 Hours Under Fire

Aired March 17, 2012 - 20:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Homs, Syria. A people under siege.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This right here, it just speaks for itself.

HOLMES: Bombarded for months. Picked off by snipers. Food and supplies running out. Medical care, impossible.

This is the story of a CNN team that got into Syria's most dangerous city. To reach a handful of citizens risking their lives every day. To see firsthand, to bear witness, and to tell the world about the suffering, the grief, and the courage of Homs.

This is the account of "72 Hours Under Fire."

HOLMES: For more than a year, the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad have used brutal force to put down a popular uprising in Syria. Across the country, protesters demanded change, chanting, "Down with the regime."

DANNY, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: This is Homs, Baba Amr. You can see over there, another rocket there at one of the civilian's houses.

HOLMES: The city of Homs became the beating heart of a growing uprising. But the Syrian military sealed off one neighborhood, Baba Amr, as it tried to crush the revolt.

CYNDE STRAND, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF COVERAGE, INTERNATIONAL NEWS: The Assad regime is shelling relentlessly these neighborhoods. There are snipers positioned in areas that are, you know, killing people as they try to leave their homes.

TONY MADDOX, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL AND NEWSGATHERING: This is a civilian neighborhood where people were living normal civilian lives, being bombarded on a massive scale by its own armed forces.

HOLMES: For four months, a debate continued at CNN. How, when, and if to get into Homs and Baba Amr.

DAMON: Within November that I first pushed forward this notion and other trips that gotten cancelled for various reasons, sometimes the plug was pulled at the last minute. MADDOX: We have to make a decision that we're going to weigh the risks compared to the editorial value. For me, Homs was the ground zero on the Syria story. No doubt about that.

DAMON: No story is worth dying for, but at the same time, when it comes to a story like Syria, and others as well, you have to be there. You have to be in it, seeing it, smelling it, listening to it, so that you at the end of the day can do justice to what the people are suffering.

Heartbreaking footage showed that no one seems to have been spared the violence. Adults and children, also.

MADDOX: Arwa Damon was leading the charge on this. Arwa is very big on that story. Arabic speaker. Tough, brave, resourceful. As determined as we've got.

HOLMES: Early in February, news emerged from Homs of intense and indiscriminate shelling by regime forces.

DAMON: The death toll on Monday utterly devastating. The majority of the casualties happening in the flash point city of Homs.

STRAND: My colleague, Amir, turned to me and he said, Cynde, he says I think there's a massacre happening in Homs. Every day there's a death toll. And suddenly the death toll in that one particular neighborhood of Homs had gone up to over 100.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hundreds of injuries. Their bodies all in all.

HOLMES: Videos uploaded from Baba Amr showed terrible suffering and great courage.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, INTERNATIONAL ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: There were very few voices coming out of Baba Amr, and two of these loudest and strongest voices were Dr. Mohammad and Dr. Abi. They ran the underground medical clinic in Baba Amr with only 15 other volunteers. But they would still go on video every single day and say, this is my case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't do anything for these unfortunate, sick people.

ABDELAZIZ: This is why this person was injured and this is what I need to treat them. But I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of the shelling, I beg of you, we can't do anything to help them.

HOLMES: Plans were revived to get a CNN team into Homs. Along with Arwa Damon, Neil Hallsworth, a veteran cameraman who has faced the worst in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel.

And handling security, Tim Crockett, former British Special Forces and an expert in balancing safety with frontline news coverage.

MADDOX: For me, that was a very experienced, highly accomplished team. These are your determined, forceful, strong-willed individuals. But they're also smart individuals.

TIM CROCKETT, CNN SECURITY ADVISER: We got the call, so we just had to refresh the same sort of things, what are we trying to achieve, how long are we going to go for?

NEIL HALLSWORTH, CNN SENIOR PHOTOJOURNALIST: For instance, on a normal trip, I'd probably take, I think, up to 10 cases, 12 cases. This I had a backpack, basically.


STRAND: Do we have the right communications systems, how are we going to track this team. Who are we going with. How are we getting there.? If someone gets injured, what are we going to do. But I will say this. With all the preparation we do and all the things we've set up and all the backstops we have, you're going into a war zone. You are on your own.

DAMON: I went to see my mom when it seems like this trip was going to materialize, my dad was out of town, but I went to see my mom and I spent some time with her and I actually wrote a letter for the first time to my family. And I went to see some very close friends as well, just in case.

HOLMES (on camera): What was it about this trip?

DAMON: There was a lot of unknown going in. You know, sometimes you just get that gut feeling.

HALLSWORTH: You know, I didn't really go and say good-bye to anyone or anything like that, but it's probably one of the reasons why I didn't because I didn't want to -- didn't want to think of it like that. So I tried to block that part of it out of my mind, really.

CROCKETT: We sat down as a team, we talked it through. At each point we sort of weighed out, what are we trying to achieve here? What could happen?

HALLSWORTH: We went into it knowing the risk we were taking and we -- we were prepared to do that for the story.

HOLMES (voice-over): Every scenario considered meticulous planning, but ultimately, Arwa, Neil, and Tim would have to rely on others on their journey into a city under siege.

DAMON: It involves a fairly elaborate process of being moved through farmlands, back roads, trying to avoid the government, ending up at at various safe houses. And at every single leg, every single stop, you have a different person who's responsible to move you on. Someone who knows the details of the lay of the land around you.

HOLMES: As the team left for Homs, those at CNN headquarters were holding their breath.

STRAND: They have moved out of that safe house. At one point when they had just crossed the border, the truck stopped on the other side of the field on the dirt road, and for a journalist, that's a bad place to be.

HOLMES: Alone, on a dirt road, in the middle of the night. A worrying start to a mission full of danger.


HOLMES (voice-over): There was no frontline in Homs. Nowhere that could be called safe. And getting in without getting caught would be perilous.

The CNN team had made it out of the field and through the night. Then just inside the Syrian border, the first signs of hardship and conflict.

DAMON: For nearly a week now, there has not been a single loaf of bread produced here. There is no flour. And that is because flour is subsidized by the government. Its distribution, fully in the control of the regime. And they are not sending supplies out here anymore.

HOLMES: In this safe house along the way, opposition forces held a man who says he killed for the al-Assad regime.

DAMON: "They gave us guns with scopes and you see the body as if you're looking at yourself in the mirror." He could see the protesters were unarmed, but he fired anyway, claiming it was kill or be killed for not carrying out orders.

HOLMES: To get into the besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr, the CNN team followed a secret route.

DAMON: Some of these routes are the only way that they have to get whatever meager medical supplies they're getting in. And more importantly, to evacuate the wounded, because they can't treat them.

HOLMES: For the thousands trapped in Baba Amr, the route was their only precious lifeline. And keeping it secret meant keeping the cameras off.

DAMON: If we'd been caught and they got our footage, it would have compromised everybody. It's not worth it. These activists, the opposition, they're risking everything. To have that jeopardized because we wanted to film something, that's completely out of the question.

HOLMES: Handed from one opposition group to the next, it would take days for Arwa, Neil, and Tim to reach the besieged city.

(On camera): How long did it take to get to Homs?

DAMON: Five days.

HOLMES: Five days. And if you wanted to, I don't know, just pick up and drive there without any of this, how long would it take?

DAMON: A couple hours.

HOLMES: A couple hours. What do you find when you go in there? What's your sense of the place?

HALLSWORTH: I remember, just looking up and around, it was -- obviously it was dark, there's no lights. And it's one of the eeriest -- the eeriest place I've ever been, I can tell you.

HOLMES: And what are you with thinking, then ?

CROCKETT: Well, it's trying to assess what we're coming into. It's, what, 3:00 in the morning, we know that the shelling is about to start in a few hours time. We hadn't really slept much the day before, and I know we probably didn't sleep much in those few hours before the bombardment started. And it started almost on the dot. And it was -- it was quite intense.

HOLMES: Describe how it unfolded.

CROCKETT: Well, we were -- we're basically lying on the floor in this room. And we've got our equipment around us. Then, you just start hearing explosions around you. Some were in the distance and all of a sudden, one would be right out in the street. It was -- it was very random in its nature.

DAMON: The shelling started as it does, just about every single morning, with daybreak. And it's pretty much nonstop. And this is why the cry we're hearing from the streets here is, please, please, do something to stop the violence.

HOLMES: You were an ex-Special Forces. How did this rate, this whole experience?

CROCKETT: We had more incoming rounds within the first 10 minutes than in the seven months that I was in Bosnia during the war.

DAMON: Here we have just one of many buildings that have been hit in this artillery barrage.

HOLMES (voice-over): When the bombardment eased, the team could see for the first time exactly what had happened to Homs.

DAMON: The streets are mostly deserted. The majority of residents are staying indoors or have already fled. You always wonder what life is like for people in these places. And you're driving through, and it's mostly deserted. Most of the buildings have sustained some sort of damage. To see the roof on that one -- and then you'll see a kid peek their head out from a doorway, or you'll see a man walking in the street, carrying an AK over one shoulder and a bag of diapers over the other.

And there's all these people and you want to go out to them and speak to them, I mean, how did they survive for this long, what were they going through? What was going on? Or you'd walk into houses that would be covered in a layer of dust and there'd be all these kids' shoes outside. Just the constant sound of gunfire, it's nonstop. And then street after street after street of rubble, just like this. We come across some members of the Free Syrian Army who take us around. This is another spot that you can also see the government influence on.

HALLSWORTH: There was one point we were with some members of the Free Syrian Army, and there was, one, like a hole in the wall, we filmed, like a tank through, and then when you pull back to that, there was a kid's Winnie the Pooh backpack on the -- one side of the bed. And they had just left, like, you know. That's kind of hard to see sometimes. You know, whole families just uprooted and disappeared.

DAMON: Personal belongings are all still inside.

HOLMES (on camera): You do get angry. I know you. You get -- you get real mad.

DAMON: I do. There's no way to answer their questions of why is this happening to us? Why isn't the world helping us? How many more of us have to die? Why is our life worth nothing?

MADDOX: Emotions is an important part of storytelling. If you don't want the reaction to become the story, where it's clearly a part of the story because you as a viewer are going to emphasize with that. This isn't a manufactured emotion. This is based on, I've been here, I've seen this.

HOLMES (voice-over): For the CNN team, the destruction in the streets was bad enough. But the desperation of the injured would be even more shocking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I swear to you he's just a kid. He came here to help people and now he's the one who needs help.


DAMON: On the horizon, thick smoke billows from a sabotaged gas pipeline. This is the war zone that Homs has become.

HOLMES (voice-over): CNN's Arwa Damon, Neil Hallsworth and Tim Crockett are in Baba Amr, a neighborhood that's endured constant shelling where civilians are killed and wounded every day, where a makeshift clinic tries to help.

DAMON: We're here with Dr. Mohammad who is actually been on numerous YouTube videos throughout this uprising, and now we're actually getting a firsthand look of exactly what he and his team are up against.

A 30-year-old man lies on the brink of death after shrapnel hit him in the head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't really do anything for him. I just stitched him up to keep the brain matter in and inserted a tube. Actually it's a nasal tube to suction the blood.

DAMON: He will die if he doesn't get out.

HOLMES: Dr. Mohammad is one of only two doctors in this clinic. The other is actually a dentist.

DAMON: Dr. Mohammad, he's not some sort of frontline, trained in emergency surgery --

HOLMES: Combat medic. Yes.

DAMON: Combat medic. He's an internal medicine specialist.

HOLMES: Yes. UGP (ph).

DAMON: Yes. And now, I mean, look at what he's dealing with. Look at the casualties he's dealing with. The kind of casualties he's dealing with. The way he's had to cope. And the fact that it's day in and day out for him. It's relentless.

The doctor is just saying that this is a patient that has to get outside of Baba Amr within 24 hours or else his leg most definitely is going to need to be amputated.

HOLMES: You saw some horrific wounds, all of you, in these places. And the guy with the leg wound, you're saying it started to smell.

DAMON: Yes, his name was Mohammad Nur (ph).


DAMON: And he was actually wounded, and this is how a lot of people have been getting wounded. Artillery strike happens, people get wounded in the street, other people run out to help them, and then --

HOLMES: Second shelling.

DAMON: Bam, the second shell. So he got wounded when a second shell struck.

At this point, you can smell the rot coming from the wound. This patient has been lying here like this for four days now.

STRAND: Arwa interviewed one of the doctors, the few doctors that was taking care of people that were being wounded in this onslaught. And he started to cry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a case that survived. This is a person who lived. He is still alive. Most cases we get like this, they die within an hour or two because we can't do anything for them.

DAMON: Here's one doctor, one man in there crying out on a daily basis that he needs help, his patients need help. He's seen who knows how many people at this point in time die. Because he can't give them what they need. Lack of equipment, lack of experience, lack of medicine. And they can't get them out.

HOLMES (voice-over): The clinic is really many clinics spread throughout the city and moving from location to location is perilous.

DAMON: This is how they have to move around a short distance to get from one location to the other where they have the patient. Six patients were killed in this building after a strike. The shelling is relentless. What they've had to do, because the clinics keep getting targeted, has tried to distribute the patients around, so they have a number of houses in the vicinity where they also have these makeshift clinics as well.

HOLMES (on camera): What's it like filming that?

HALLSWORTH: Well, you've got to be respectful. So it's kind of tough filming, actually, because you want to show how bad it actually is, but to not get --

HOLMES: Intrude.

HALLSWORTH: Intrude too much. So, you know, it's -- it is tough.

HOLMES (voice-over): Every patient is desperate to tell their story by any means possible. This man, tracing the shape of a tank on the wall.

DAMON: This here is Abad, and he's been drawing, trying to explain to us what happened, because he's in so much agony, he can't speak. He is one of the cameraman who goes out, risks his life all the time. It's some of his clips that we constantly see posted to YouTube and broadcast, and he's been drawing two tanks and explaining how he was moving down the street across from them when they fired at him.

CROCKETT: I've seen injuries, wounds equally as nasty in my career, but I think what really struck me was the fact that they had nothing. Few medicines, dressings, and stuff on shelves. Other than that, there was nothing. Nothing to deal with the kinds of wounds that they were getting.

DAMON: Aboudi was a 19-year-old young man. We saw him inside the clinic. He was barely hanging on. There was this young woman who was treating him. She was just 27 years old. She also was a volunteer medic. They'd just had two weeks of training, and you could hear the anger, the frustration, the sorrow, the sheer emotion in her voice when she was talking about how this was a young man, just at the beginning of his life. He was actually engaged to be married. And he had volunteered to help the wounded and he found himself in a hospital bed as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I swear to you he's just a kid. He came here to help people and now he's the one who needs help.

HOLMES: Just hours after this video was taken, Aboudi died. As did the 30-year-old with the severe head wound.

DAMON: You get angry that people have the capability to do this to one another. That people are suffering and that there's nothing that one can do to ease their pain. There's no way to fix their situation. HOLMES: But there is some good news. At least two of the men in the CNN team's report are alive. Abad, who communicated through drawing, made it to a hospital in Lebanon. So, too, did Mohammad Nur.

DAMON: He did, actually, manage to get out, but not in time. The last I heard was that, yes, his leg was going to have to be amputated.

HOLMES: What may never be known are the fates of hundreds of other people who were unable or unwilling to flee.

DAMON: It was so indiscriminate, it was so widespread. And it's hard to put into words but every single person that you meet there has gone through something so horrific. No other human being would ever want to go through it.


HOLMES (voice-over): When CNN's Arwa Damon, Neil Hallsworth, and Tim Crockett ventured into the streets of Homs.

DAMON: I hear gunfire.

HOLMES: They were met by the sounds of war and scenes of desolation.

(On camera): It's not deserted. There's thousands of people there.

DAMON: There are. And a lot of them are staying in doors. The mosques were putting out messages, actually, when the bombardment started, telling people to not live on the upper floors of their buildings. To try to stay away from windows. To try to find protected rooms inside their homes.

A lot of families had also moved into bunkers. These aren't real bunkers. They're actually just the basements that are only located in a few of the buildings and homes around here. So all the families that haven't been able to escape stay in them.

So this is Hamad, who has been telling us that there were around 250 people that were staying in this one room. Half of them have actually fled in the last 24 hours because they heard that this particular location was going to get targeted. And those that have stayed are literally the ones that have absolutely no where, no where at all to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our children are displaced and crying. The bombs are coming down like this.

DAMON: They huddle in near darkness.

CROCKETT: And it's cold, because it's cold this time of year. And most of the houses that we went through were either heated by an oil- fired -- a fire stove in the middle of the room or wood fire. And, obviously, that's one of the resources that's been cut off by the government. They haven't got heating oil being supplied into the neighborhood or into part of the city. DAMON: They're constantly at the tip of this abyss of fear. That fear that, you know, you go through these of time, they've been living this for month.

This woman's son has been detained since the end of August. Another woman's son has been detained, this one right here, for a month and a half.

In these makeshift bunkers we were in, almost every single woman that came up to talk to us, and they would pull you in every single direction, because all of them had something they wanted to share.

HOLMES (voice-over): Arwa and her team visited another bunker inside a wood-cutting factory, another temporary refuge from the shelling. But in Homs, there was no place to hide from sadness and suffering.

DAMON: Baby Fatima (ph) is cradled in her grandmother's arms. The image of innocence, although the world she was just brought into is anything but.

In the shelter, we basically met three generations of one family. The baby who had just been born, her name was Fatima, and she was just 24 hours old when we met her. Her mother, who was in her late teens, it was her second child, and she had to give birth in the bunker with no painkillers, no nothing.

She says her husband left a month ago to get supplies and hasn't been able to get back. He doesn't know he's a father. Baby Fatima has two great uncles she will never meet. Both detained and returned as mutilated corpses. It was a sight you don't want to see. Fatima's grandmother's voice trembles as she describes how one of her brother's neck was broken, his skin peeled off.

We've just been given a photograph of her second brother who was detained and the state that she received his corpse in. And it's absolutely horrific.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When is the end? We want it to end. Maybe God will protect us in your presence. I don't now. What is left of Baba Amr? There's no one there anymore. It is scary.

DAMON: They'd all left, husbands, brothers, who knows? At one point, it was like being in a bunker full of widows and orphans.

(INAUDIBLE) brother and husband were killed when a round struck their home 10 days ago, but she can hardly pause to grief.

And I remember looking at this woman and wondering, how it is that she's able to even form a cohesive sentence, how she even able to speak logically? How she's not completely beside herself with grief and ripping her hair out? Well, it's because she has to keep it together because she has kids and they're living in a bunker. She has no choice.

I've just been given this book that has a list of all of the names of everyone here. There's 315 of them, marked next to each one of them, the age, whether or not they need basics like diapers, baby's milk, which is in short supply, of course. And this here is a list of the medicines that they need. And a lot of it is very basic. Painkillers and things to deal with colds, flu, especially for the children.

HOLMES (on camera): You feel helpless -- you feel like you want to do something? I mean --

CROCKETT: Yes. I felt that I wanted to go back in there with a team of medical specialists, with everything that we could carry to try and help support them.

DAMON: This woman is in complete fear. She doesn't want to speak. Her name -- she doesn't want to show her face.

Another woman was holding her baby, who was just crying, crying, crying. She said, you know, he has a fever, he's sick. Feel his face. There's no medicine for him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He keeps crying, saying I want daddy, I want daddy. How am I going to bring his daddy back? What am I supposed to tell him?

DAMON: There is nothing that one can do to ease their pain. There's no way to fix their situation. And there's no way to answer their questions. There's no way to answer their questions and why is this happening to us? Why isn't the world helping us? How many more of us have to die? Why is our life worth nothing?

HOLMES: What did my child do?

DAMON: Exactly. You know what's the mother supposed to tell her child about why his father died?

HALLSWORTH: I think it affects you more because you obviously speak Arabic. It was like, I don't think the emotions were pushed on to us as much as they were on to Arwa.

MADDOX: The emotion is an important part of storytelling. You're looking at our team and looking at Arwa, who's a great professional, you could see that this was really impacting her. But there's no doubt in my mind that, you know, she was being shaken by what she had seen there.

DAMON: If we cannot have a certain level of compassion that is reasonably translated into our reporting, how can we expect people, thousands of miles, kilometers away, sitting in their living room to even begin to relate to what it is they're seeing on their TV screen? You're always wondering if you've done someone's pain enough justice. If you've done what they've been through enough justice.


HOLMES (voice-over): Homs, Syria. Dawn.

DAMON: There's ongoing gunfire throughout the entire day.

HOLMES: For CNN's Arwa Damon, Neil Hallsworth, and Tim Crockett, it was day two covering the unfolding tragedy.

CROCKETT: And the bombardment started, and at one point, there was a different kind of explosion, a different kind of noise. And I thought, that was odd. It lasted a little bit longer, and I thought perhaps it was two or three impacts coming at the same time or in short succession. A little while later, it happened again. It wasn't until the third time it happened that I suddenly realized what it was. It was thunder, but mixed in with the explosions, it was just a different experience. And it brought a smile to my face, lying there sort of in the darkness.

HOLMES: A light moment that would be short-lived. Soon, a rocket slammed into the house, just two floors above them.

DAMON: It hit us. It hit our house. There is something burning, the voice on the tape cries out. The media house in Baba Amr has been hit. Cut off the live camera, someone shouts. They have discovered our position. But nothing, they swear, will shut them down.

HOLMES: Undeterred, the activists soldier on.

HALLSWORTH: There was one time where they were typing on the computer, and a rocket hit the house, and the lights went out, and you know, the place shook and they just carried on typing like nothing had happened.

DAMON: We survey the damage. To get to the upper floors, you really have to hug the wall, because there's the one window that's exposed, but this is where you really see the full impacts of the damage that was caused by the incoming rounds. I mean, this right here, it just speaks for itself.

One of the neighbors was in, she was there with her father. She was just a 9-year-old girl, and the rounds are impacting pretty closely, the guys are all on their computers, and she was just kind of in the corner. And at one point, I called her over to come sit on the couch, but she sat frozen. And I tried to go over to hug her, but she was so frozen, she couldn't move. She just sat there like this, and tears streaming down her face.

This floor is obviously been completely trashed, and the activists were telling us that the bombardment, they keep hearing it over and over again, the sounds of artillery falling, is nothing compared to what they've been through before. But this was once an ordinary home, an ordinary family lived here. And we don't know what their story was.

There's just bits and pieces of their lives that have been left behind, including this children's toy. What happened to that family? What exactly was it that made them leave? Are they alive? There's so much still that we don't know and so much that still needs to be told.

HOLMES: But hearing and telling those stories requires strategy.

(On camera): How do you move? Like, Tim, you're obviously looking around for things that -- CROCKETT: Very carefully.


CROCKETT: And we never went out when the -- when bombardment was at its most intense. Typically, that would start 7:00, 7:30 in the morning and carry through to anywhere between 12:00 and 1:00.

HOLMES (voice-over): The Syrian activists dared to show the world that they were under siege.

DAMON: One of the biggest accomplishments for the media team here was getting up a live stream so that they could show the world exactly what was happening in real time. And they believed that this really aggravated the Syrian government. Now this is one of the live cameras that they had set up outside. And they're telling us that it was shot by a sniper's bullet, that went in right there and then came out the other end.

This particular group that we were with, the Baba Amr media team, they're young. They're all in their 20s, you know? They all had different lives a year ago, and they're so brave. They're so brave.

They crawl on their bellies to try to get that shot of the tank to prove to the world that there are tanks in a certain location or whatever it is that they're trying to prove. They're uploading YouTube videos, they're putting messages out on Facebook, on Twitter. They're making themselves available for reports.

CROCKETT: Many of them have had family members that have been either seriously injured or killed as well. And so knowing all that and yet keep going out each day with their cameras to get the footage that they are, it's amazing. What they're doing, it's for their children, for their families, all these sort of things that until we ever find ourselves in that circumstances, we can't really relate to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With all the death and destruction we are trying to keep our emotions under control, trying to ensure that we don't hate and that hatred doesn't spread. If there isn't outside intervention it will be an ocean of blood. If the situation continues like this, how can we work together? People will explode. They won't be able to take it anymore.

MARIE COLVIN, LONDON SUNDAY TIMES: The Syrian army is basically shelling the city of cold, starving civilians.

HOLMES: Also getting the message out was veteran war correspondent, Marie Colvin, reporting for the "Sunday Times of London."

DAMON: I was so star struck by her, actually, just because of everything that she'd done. Her passion, her desire to tell the story.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, AC 360: Marie, I mean you have covered a lot of conflicts over a long time. How does this compare? COLVIN: This is the worst, Anderson. For many reasons. The last one -- I mean, I think the last time we talked when I was in Misrata, it's partly personal safety, I guess. There's nowhere to run. You can sort of figure out where snipers are, but you can't figure out where, you know, where a shell is going to land.

HOLMES: On the CNN team's third night in Baba Amr, word spread that a ground offensive by the Syrian military was imminent.

MADDOX: It became clear that it was very difficult to find any place of safety there. Safety was a relative term. The risks were building on that assignment.

HOLMES: The risks were building.

DAMON: Quick. Let's go.

HOLMES: And time, it seemed, was running out.


HOLMES (voice-over): Homs, Syria. For months, activists in this media house had risked everything to capture and share with the world the shocking images of what was happening to their city.

DANNY: We're not animals. We're human beings. We're asking for help.

HOLMES: Now the team in the media house.

DAMON: Quick. Let's go.

HOLMES: Including CNN's Arwa Damon, Neil Hallsworth, and Tim Crockett, have intel that things were about to get even more dangerous.

HALLSWORTH: We have been in there for almost three days at this point, and there was credible information that something was going to happen that would be very detrimental to our being --


HALLSWORTH: Yes. We all sat down. Everyone was part of the discussion about, you know, look, talking through all the options that, you know, could, would, may, may not happen.

HOLMES: In Homs and at CNN headquarters, the teams discussed the deteriorating conditions.

KHOSRAVI: We're hearing that things were heating up more than they were in those past few days.

STRAND: The government knew about this media center. It had been a target. The building had hit -- been hit the day before on the third floor. KHOSRAVI: As careful as we were, as calculated as every move was, there are some things you cannot safeguard against. A rocket coming out of nowhere, there's nothing you can do.

STRAND: And it's a difficult decision, because Arwa wanted to stay. She felt she was really doing important journalism. But sometimes you just have to say, it's time to go.

DAMON: There's a sniper --

HOLMES: Time to go for the CNN team and journalist Marie Colvin and Paul Conroy.

DAMON: At one point in the route, it's incredibly muddy. It's pouring rain. It's freezing cold. And there's this like part where I just completely -- I face-planted in the mud. And then I was trying to, like, lift myself back up, and my little legs are kind of going like this to get, like, traction, and I couldn't, and I finally get up and then bam, I face-plant down again. And Marie had face-planted as well. And then we ended up kind of sitting on top of each other in this truck with a professional goat herder turned "I'm going to smuggle you through the farmlands" guy.

And I mean, Marie and I were just laughing. We were just -- I mean, nothing about what we've been through was funny, nothing about what we've seen was funny, but we were just laughing.

HOLMES (on camera): When you had left, you were riding around on the back of a motorcycle?

CROCKETT: It could be a cow truck, it could be a taxi, it could be the back of a motorcycle. It's what is available, what is the safest point at that time, or what they feel is the safest thing. It's not one way in and one way out.

HOLMES (voice-over): And getting out of Homs would be just as dangerous as getting in.

MADDOX: But so often on these stories, when you think you're through the worst of it, there's a nasty surprise.

HOLMES: It would take two anxious days and then, finally, good news.

MADDOX: They crossed the border. It was like, whoa. Wow.

HOLMES: But Marie, Paul, photographer Remi Ochlik, and other Western journalists soon reversed course.

(On camera): Marie went out, but she went back.

DAMON: She did. She had actually only been there for 24 hours, and she had this need to go back, to not leave these people behind. To tell even more of their stories than she had had the opportunity to tell. I wanted to go back. I don't think we did enough. I don't even think we need nearly enough. MADDOX: I understand that frustration. From my point of view, I have to be more pragmatic. I have to say, I think we've done a great deal. I think we've achieved a remarkable amount.

KHOSRAVI: It's important that we're able to go back and tell the story. And that's why we pull out when we pull out. It's a family. And that's the most important thing. Everybody knows how much everybody cares, and that their safety truly is our highest priority.

COOPER: We got the sad news early this morning that Marie Colvin, foreign correspondent for "The Sunday Times of London", was killed in Homs where the Syrian government has unleashed an all-out assault on its citizens. An award-winning French war photographer, Remi Ochlik was also killed. He was just 28 years old.

DAMON: It's tragic, but it's also -- unfortunately, it happens.

HOLMES (on camera): Does it makes you think about what you were doing there, more?

DAMON: Did I have second thoughts about having gone there? No. Not for a second. If journalism were governed by that sort of fear, we journalists would never be anywhere. And things would happen in complete and total black holes.

MADDOX: The last thing that those frontline troops want is that when a tragedy happens, it makes us less willing to do this kind of storytelling us. It makes us less willing to go to where the story is.

STRAND: It takes a special type of person to do this kind of thing. What kind of person is that? It's a person that's passionate about telling the truth.

MADDOX: I think the worry for Arwa and for others is that somehow the story of Homs will be forgotten, or the suffering there will be forgotten. But we are committed to this story. We will continue to find ways of doing this story and bringing this story to people. It's really important.

DAMON: The one thing that we absolutely can not do is walk away from this story, no matter how long it takes. It is fundamentally unfair that we live in a world where we can go film this, report on it, and leave. Knowing that the people we've left behind, suffering is going to continue. Feeling as if we should have done more, we could have done more.

Maybe there was a better way to tell the story, that would have had more impact, that would have brought them the help that they need. You're always constantly second-guessing how you've done things and whether or not you could have accomplished more with what you've done. And yes, that does play on your mind. And it should. And you should tell the stories of the people that you've met. Because you've witnessed it, and that's your responsibility, to keep telling their stories. GRAPHICS: Hundreds of civilians are believed to have died in the siege of Baba Amr, many more fled. At least three activists from the media house involved in getting video out of Baba Amr were killed. At the end of February, the Syrian military broke the resistance of Baba Amr. Opposition activists claim the military carried out summary executions. Regime forces continue to bombard other areas that oppose the rule of Bashar al-Assad.