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Iraqi Dancer's Dreams Cut Short By Terrorism


And one more word about a story that may have slipped by you, given all that's been happening in recent weeks. Hundreds of people around the world have died in attacks by the Islamic State, and one of the worst happened earlier this month in Baghdad where a suicide bomber killed more than 250 people. One of the victims was a young man named Adil Al-Faj (ph). He was known online as Adel Euro, a hip-hop dancer. And NPR's Denise Guerra has his story.

DENISE GUERRA, BYLINE: Adel Euro desperately wanted out of Iraq, and he had a plan. Adel wanted to dance in New York. He heard that Jonathan Hollander, the founder of Battery Dance Company there, had gone to Iraq to work with professional dancers. Adel never went to school for dancing. He learned how to dance from YouTube, mainly breakdancing tutorials and old Michael Jackson videos. He needed to get Jonathan's attention, so Adel made his own video and sent it to him.


GUERRA: The video shows a wide gray pavement, a grove of trees covering cars zooming by. There's an artist, but Jonathan can't see what he's painting. Adel enters and starts dancing.


GUERRA: Straight break dancing, pop and lock poses - then, Jonathan sees what's in the painting.

JONATHAN HOLLANDER: Painter is finished the portrait and it's my picture. It was like an electrical shock had gone through my body. I couldn't believe it. Tears came into my eyes.

GUERRA: It definitely got Jonathan's attention. He and Adel began talking through Facebook, text messages, and Skype. They got so close that Adel started calling him his other dad. Here's one of Adel's messages to Jonathan.


ADIL AL-FAJ: Surprise. Hey, Dad, how are you? I - at training today in my home with exercise and the contemporary. So thank you so much, Dad, and take care.

HOLLANDER: Adel had a limber body. He could do a split in any direction. He had everything in place. So it was just a question of teaching him the technique.

GUERRA: But how could you teach someone in Baghdad from Manhattan?


GUERRA: Skype. Jonathan asked Sean Scantlebury, one of his top students, to teach Adel. They practiced almost every day for six months. Sometimes the video connection was so bad they'd skip the dance lesson altogether. And Sean said they would just talk.

SEAN SCANTLEBURY: And he told me a story about practicing in a park. I think he was trying to make a film. And the cops came by and stopped him and asked him, like, what are you doing? And quickly, he said, oh, I'm practicing martial arts.

BILAL: In my country, if people saw you dance, they say you are gay.

GUERRA: That's Adel's younger brother, Bilal (ph). He lives in Belgium as a refugee. He's also a dancer.

BILAL: If they see him, you know they will threat him or they will kill him. It's just the way Iraq is.

GUERRA: Still, Adel put everything he did on YouTube and gained a small following. In his videos, he expressed his frustrations about still being in Iraq.


AL-FAJ: I'm just a person who has this talent. But no one cares about me. And no one cares about this talent. With all these reasons, I will never give up.

GUERRA: Adel's message gave his brother Bilal, his fans and his friends hope.

BILAL: He give me more motivation to do more and more. Like, he was my best example. When I see him, I want to be better.

GUERRA: Adel went on to finish law school and propose to his girlfriend. Last year, he even performed at the Amman Contemporary Dance Festival in Jordan where he met Sean and Jonathan in person.


GUERRA: He danced to this song.


GUERRA: Earlier this month, Adel went back to Baghdad. He was watching the Euro Cup with his friends at a busy shopping mall. It was the end of Ramadan. And the mood was festive, until an ISIS suicide blast killed almost 300 people. Adel was one of them. His mentor Jonathan Hollander received an anonymous Facebook message about Adel's death. He told the sender not to tell him the details.

HOLLANDER: I loved Adel like a son. Please don't send me the pictures, I can't see them. I want to remember him as the beautiful, happy young man whom I knew.

GUERRA: Adel's friends and family continue to mourn him on social media. They say the older generation knows him as a lawyer and a loving son. To them, his dancing is just a footnote. Denise Guerra, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.