In Turkey, Mosul Eye kept at it: via WhatsApp and Viber, from Facebook messages and long conversations with friends and relatives who had contacts within IS. From hundreds of kilometres away, his life remained consumed by events in Mosul.
By mid-2016, deaths were piling up faster than he could document. The IS and airstrikes were taking a bloody toll on residents. His records grew haphazard, and he turned to Twitter to document the atrocities. In February 2017, he received asylum in Europe with the aid of an organization that learned his backstory. He continued to track the airstrikes and Islamic State killings
He mapped the airstrikes as they closed in on his family, pleading with his older brother to leave his home in West Mosul. Ahmed, 36, died days later when shrapnel from a mortar strike pierced his heart, leaving behind four young children.
It was only then that Mosul Eye revealed his secret to a younger brother — who was proud to learn the anonymous historian he had been reading for so long was his brother.
“People in Mosul had lost hope and confidence in politicians, in everything,” his brother said. Mosul Eye “managed to show that it’s possible to change the situation in the city and bring it back to life.”
As the Old City crumbled, Mosul Eye sent co-ordinates and phone numbers for homes filled with civilians to a BBC journalist who was covering the battle, trying to get the attention of someone in the coalition command. He believes he saved lives.
Then, with his beloved Old City destroyed, Mosul Eye launched a fundraiser to rebuild the city’s libraries because the extremists had burned all the books. None of his volunteers knew his identity.
An activist who helped co-found a ‘Women of Mosul’ Facebook group with Mosul Eye describes him as a “spiritual leader” for the city’s secular-minded.
“He was telling us about the day-to-day events under ISIS and we were following closely with excitement as if we were watching a movie. Sometimes he went through hard times and we used to encourage him. He won the people’s trust and we became very curious to know his real personality,” said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she believed she was still in danger.
From a distance, finally writing his dissertation on 19th century Mosul history in the safety of a European city, he continued to write as Mosul Eye and organize cultural events and fundraisers from afar — even after Mosul was liberated.
The double life consumed him, sapped energy he’d rather use for the doctoral dissertation and for helping Mosul rebuild. And it hurt when someone asked the young Iraqi why he didn’t do more to help his people. He desperately wanted his mother to know all that he had done.
He felt barely real, with so many people knowing him by false identities: 293,000 followers on Facebook, 37,000 on WordPress and 23,400 on Twitter.
In hours of conversation with The Associated Press, he agonized over when and how to end the anonymity that plagued him. He did not want to be a virtual character anymore.
On Nov. 15, 2017, Mosul Eye made his decision.
“I can’t be anonymous anymore. This is to say that I defeated ISIS. You can see me now, and you can know me now.”
He is 31 years old.
His name is Omar Mohammed.
“I am a scholar.”