Images of the child wearing a red T-shirt and blue shorts spread like wildfire through social media and his plight has dominated international headlines, in a heart-rending symbol of the mortal risks faced by tens of thousands of refugees desperate to reach Europe by sea.
Mustefa Ebdi, a journalist in the family’s original hometown of Kobane on the Turkish border in northern Syria, said the three-year-old child’s family had been living in Damascus but been forced to flee the war’s instability multiple times.
Turkish media had identified the family’s surname as Kurdi, a possible reference to their ethnic background, but Ebdi said the actual family name was Shenu.
“They left Damascus in 2012 and headed to Aleppo, and when clashes happened there, they moved to Kobane. And again, when clashes (with the Islamic State jihadist group) happened there, they moved to Turkey,” Ebdi, who spoke with a family friend hosting Aylan’s devastated father, told AFP.
IS fighters launched a fierce offensive to seize Kobane in late 2014, but were pushed back in January by Kurdish militia, Syrian rebel forces and US-led coalition air strikes.
The family returned to Kobane, hoping it would be stable enough to resume their lives there, Ebdi said.
But in June, IS fighters re-entered the flashpoint town, holding hostages in several buildings in a two-day stand-off that left more than 200 civilians dead.
Insecurity forced the family to decide they had no alternative but to try to reach Europe from Turkey, said Ebdi.
He said they stayed in Bodrum for one month, saving money and borrowing from relatives for the journey.
“They left to try to find a better life.”
The family of four left the shores of Bodrum, a glitzy Aegean resort, on a small boat on Wednesday heading towards the Greek island of Kos.
But as the waves grew more volatile, their boat flipped over, and Aylan, his four-year-old brother, Ghaleb, and their mother, Rihana, drowned.
The bodies were to be transferred from a hospital in Bodrum to Kobane for burial in the next 48 hours, according to Ebdi.
The journalist told AFP his own attempts to speak to Abdallah were futile: “I tried to speak to him, but I couldn’t because he just started crying.”
Aylan is believed to be one of least 12 Syrians who have died when their boats sank trying to reach Greece.
Syria’s war has left more than 240,000 people dead. More than four million have sought refuge in nearby countries, and millions more have been internally displaced.