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Raed Fares, Mastermind Behind Syrian Protest Banners, Wounded In Shooting

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KAFRANBEL
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BEIRUT -- Raed Fares, the sharp wit behind some of Syria's most brilliant and provocative protest banners, was shot in the back early on Wednesday by unknown assailants, his friends and colleagues said.

Fares, who is 41 years old, is said to be recovering in the hospital in Kafranbel, the "little town" he helped make famous through his controversial deployment of snarky posters and banners designed to send messages to the international community over its inaction in Syria.

He is believed to have been attacked by militants with the al Qaeda-linked group Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which has regularly clashed with other more secular revolutionaries in northern Syria. In the attack that occurred near Fares' home in Kafranbel around 1 a.m., the militants fired more than a dozen shots, with only two hitting Fares, one activist said.

A photograph posted Friday to the Facebook page of Fares' friend showed him resting in a bed, with a smile on his face and what appears to be a bullet wound in his arm.

In an interview with The Huffington Post in southern Turkey late last year, Fares said that he was increasingly worried that he or his family might be targeted for his activism, particularly by some of the Islamist radical groups that have become a scourge for Syria's revolutionaries.

"My family is not safe, not anymore," he said at the time. "I am so scared that they will kidnap one of my kids. That would destroy my life. If they killed me it would be better -- I am so scared of this happening."

"The regime is extremely dangerous, but when we talk about ISIS, I forget all about the regime."

A former real estate agent, Fares might seem an unlikely symbol to emerge from the malaise of Syria's grueling conflict.

But his banners have struck a nerve through Syria and sympathetic portions of the Western world, where their upbeat if defiant positions on the conflict offer a welcome counterpoint to the otherwise sorrowful drumbeat of bad news.

The first banners focused on local events, Fares said, and drew on his personal sense of outrage and abandonment. In early 2011, government planes bombed his village, but state television channels denied that the bombing had taken place, he said. So he and some friends stood outside the rubble of what had once been a house with a banner that marked the spot. "I didn't think that it would be global," he said.

But as the banners grew more humorous and provocative, the international attention they drew also expanded. (The colorfully drawn posters that have also appeared at Kafranbel protests are the work of a friend, Fares said, although he often gives input on the ideas behind them.)

In late 2011, Fares produced one that challenged Obama's inaction and suggested the world would be better if George W. Bush were still president. "Obama's procrastination kills us; we miss Bush's audacity," it said.

In another, from early 2012, he wrote of the Syrian president, "Assad has hypnotized the world and ordered it to behave like an asshole."

Last year, the Kafranbel protesters branched out into more international themes, with banners that offered sympathies to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the family of Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was killed in Florida by a vigilante neighborhood watchman.

Still, the war has taken a toll, Fares conceded.

"Sometimes I'm sad," he said, as he sipped a cup of coffee last year in Turkey. He was scheduled to go back into Syria that night, and then embark on a two-week trip of the U.S., where he would speak before Syrian-American audiences and meet with lawmakers.

He hoped he could provide some spark to reinvigorate supporters of the opposition whose enthusiasm might have flagged in recent months.

"Some people think, 'Why did we make the revolution? Syria was safe before,'" he said. "This is the question I'm trying to answer now. Because I think the people of the world think that it was a big mistake to do the revolution, because look at where we are now, look at the terrorists we have in Syria. But it wasn't a mistake. It was our duty to have this revolution."

Then he flashed a mischievous grin. "But I'm crazy, too," he said. "And I always say, no one who has a brain, and can really think sensibly, would start a revolution against Bashar Assad."

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