The family and friends of a Syrian journalist who had been based in India for 15 long years and went missing a week ago in the battle zone of Iraq are praying hard for a miracle.
Waiel SH Awwad, who was reporting the US-led war in Iraq for the UAE-based Al-Arabiya television as a journalist embedded with the US Marine Corps, went missing in southern Iraq on March 22, two days after the conflict began.
"We are praying for him and asking all our friends to pray for him and all innocent people involved in this conflict for no reason," Mariam Awwad, his anguished Iranian-born wife, told IANS.
She last spoke to him on the morning of March 22, just before he was to go to Jordan from war-torn Iraq.
"I was worried and I did not know what to say to him. I did not want to scare him... I did not want him to go. But, as a wife, you have to give all the support you can."
Mariam kept track of her husband through his reports that came once a day, according to her. But the family grew worried as the reports stopped coming after March 22 when he was in southern Iraq. He filed only two reports from there.
A colleague reportedly heard his last words on the videophone before the connection went dead - "No, no. I am not an American. I am a Syrian journalist!"
A citizen of Syria, Awwad, believed to be 44, had come to India to get a medical degree 15 years ago and ended up making the country his second home.
After completing medicine from Safdarjung hospital, he decided to take up journalism when he realized there were few Arabs reporting on the Middle East. He worked for radio and television, including MBC OF London and Kuwait Radio.
He was covering the Iraq war embedded with the 3rd unit of the U.S. Marine Corps. Two other journalists, a photographer and a technician from Al-Arabiya, also went missing with him.
The Awwads have three daughters and a son, Nouman, barely two months old. Awaad hardly saw him after his birth, as he had to leave for the Iraq assignment.
"I don't know what to do, whom to contact - my mind is not working... sometimes I think I am losing control and even forget my name," said Mariam. She had lost 24 kg due to constant fear and worry, she said.
The desperate family has contacted the Syrian Embassy and his colleagues in the Middle East for help.
The Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC), of which Awwad was vice president, has issued an SOS to the journalists working in the war zone, including to those of CNN and the BBC, which have deployed a large number of reporters in and around Iraq.
The appeal e-mailed by FCC president S. Venkat Narayan says: "We all are worried about him. His wife, three daughters and son are worried about his safety. This is an SOS to all FCC members now in and around Iraq, covering the war for their media organizations.
"Kindly help locate him."
Narayan hopes the US authorities will message their central command in Doha to help track him down.
"He was a very good friend, very popular. We miss him and pray to god he is safe somewhere as a POW," Narayan told IANS.
He recalls that Awwad travelled a lot, so much in fact that he had no time to furnish his CV for the FCC's records. "When he returned from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan once with a beard (he is otherwise clean shaven), we asked him why. He quipped that it helped him get around the Taliban."
Colleagues remembered Awwad as a regular at foreign ministry briefings and deeply concerned with issues of the Middle East, especially the Israel-Palestine conflict. He asked a question at almost all press briefings.