'I cannot breathe,' fire victim says on phone

Mr Mohammed Alhajali spoke to his brother by phone before his death.
Mr Mohammed Alhajali spoke to his brother by phone before his death.

LONDON • The first victim of the inferno at a high-rise social housing block in London has been named as Mr Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee who came to Britain in 2014 with his brother.

The Syria Solidarity Campaign, a London-based advocacy group, confirmed Mr Alhajali's death. "Mohammed's older brother Omar, who was with him in the flat, survived but lost Mohammed on the way out," the group said on Facebook yesterday.

"Omar was rescued by the fire services while Mohammed went back upstairs," the group said. "Mohammed was on the phone for two hours with a friend in Syria, waiting to be rescued."

"When the fire reached his flat on the 14th floor," the Syria Solidarity Campaign statement added, "Mohammed bid his friend goodbye, saying that the fire had reached him. He asked his friend to pass on the message to his family."

Omar, who shared the apartment, described a chaotic rescue effort to the BBC. As flames got nearer, Omar spoke to his brother by phone. "He said: 'Why (have) you left me...?' He said: 'I'm dying. I cannot breathe'," sobbed Omar, reported Reuters.

Friends say Mr Alhajali had planned to return to Syria when the war was over, and was studying civil engineering at the University of West London, according to The New York Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2017, with the headline ''I cannot breathe,' fire victim says on phone'. Print Edition | Subscribe