04/01/2015 07:03 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT

Syrian girl's 'surrender' to photographer caught in heartbreaking image

A little girl stands in a refugee camp, hands raised in surrender, a look of fear on her face.

The photo of four-year-old Hudea has quickly become a symbol of the terrible human toll of the war in Syria. 

The image was captured by photographer Osman Sagirli, who told the BBC Tuesday that Hudea thought his telephoto lens was a weapon and raised her hands.

"I realized she was terrified after I took it, and looked at the picture, because she bit her lips and raised her hands. Normally kids run away, hide their faces or smile when they see a camera," Sagirli told the broadcaster, adding that the photo was taken in December of last year at the Atmeh refugee camp near the Turkish border.

The photo went viral around the globe last week when it was shared by Nadia AbuShaban on Twitter.

It was also posted widely on Reddit and the image-sharing site Imgur. Some users on the social platforms speculated that the photo was old or perhaps some kind of hoax. Others thought Hudea was a boy. 

But the image was first published in the Turkish press in January, only spreading to the English world in late March. 

The war in Syria has been raging for more than four years. The United Nations estimates that roughly 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict.