Alaa Basatneh was just a teenager when she waged war with one of the most powerful dictators in the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Armed with only a laptop and the strength of social media, Basatneh helped guide a revolution more than 6,000 miles away from her home in Chicago. Now Basatneh’s effort to help communication efforts in the war torn region are highlighted in a documentary opening here this week.
"When the revolution started in Syria, activists needed help," said Basatneh, who is now 23 years old.
Basatneh, a college student, studies political science, but spends up to 10 hours a day organizing protests in rebel-held Syria. She maps escape routes and posts videos from people on the ground. She does this through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype.
The documentary, called #ChicagoGirl, focuses on Basatneh’s relentless efforts to expose the brutal conflict and deadly battles in Syria.
"The Syrian regime is bombing its own citizens with TNT barrel bombs," said Basatneh. "It’s used chemical weapons against its own citizens."
Humanitarian groups like Amnesty International and United Nations Human Rights recently have exposed these war crimes, but many crimes go unreported because of an ongoing media blackout. A report released last month by the activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, show more than 200,000 Syrians died since the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2011.
The documentary film crew captures bombings on video and later are forced to smuggle the footage out of the country.
"I help translate for activists and citizen journalists," said Basatneh. "I help connect them with journalists and media outlets outside of Syria so they can give accounts of what’s going on on the ground."
Basatneh has been threatened online and in person.
"The Syrian regime in August of 2011 sent me a Facebook message, a threat saying, 'You Chicago girl we are aware of what you are doing and who you are helping on the ground. We are waiting for you in the airports to make an example out of you.'"
The FBI and Amnesty International investigated the threat and confirmed the e-mail came from a Syrian Government intelligence officer.
After that incident, Basatneh started taking precautions.
"What have they been doing to other activists?" she asks. "They have been killing them and torturing them."
Many activists like Basatneh wind up in government-run prisons. Nearly 13,000 Syrians have been tortured to death in these prisons since the start of the civil war, according to a January publication of the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights.
Basatneh’s name now appears on the Syrian Government’s Watch List. She can no longer return to Syria, but she vows to continue her fight to peacefully topple the Syrian regime.
"It’s a betrayal of my friends who have died to say you know what I have done my fair share I’m not going to do anymore. I don’t see that happening," she said.