Inside the Free Syrian Army’s DIY Weapons Workshops
During my five months in Syria, there’s one remark I keep hearing from the rebels: we need ammunition and we need heavy weapons. The makeshift army fighting Bashar al-Assad’s troops may be armed with plenty of ancient Kalashnikovs, a steady stream of young men ready to fight and die, and an unshakeable belief that Allah is on their side. But they’re facing a regime equipped with Russian-made tanks and fighter jets, a regime that’s apparently happy to unleash huge scud missiles and chemical weapons on its own population to keep itself in power.
The rebels and Assad’s forces are locked in a particularly sticky, horrendously bloody stalemate; the rebels can hold the front lines but find it almost impossible to advance because they don’t have the weapons and ammunition to make a push. The regime is able to fire heavy artillery at the residential neighborhoods held by the rebels, occasionally picking off fighters while simultaneously destroying the homes of ordinary citizens.
That’s clearly not an ideal situation to be trapped in. So it was inevitable that, at some point, the rebels would stop relying on the West to ship over weapons, and instead work out how to make them themselves.
Mohamad’s Molotov cocktail factory on the frontline in Salaheddin, Aleppo.
I decided to root out one of these DIY weaponry workshops and started my search in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and the center of the conflict since fighting erupted in 2011. On the front line, which runs through the city’s Salaheddin neighborhood, I met 17-year-old Mohamad. Together with two of his friends, he’s set up a Molotov cocktail factory in what used to be a little girl’s bedroom. Mohamad showed me how he fills glass juice bottles with oil, stuffs the tops with mattress foam and bits of ripped-up bed sheets, before lighting them up and flinging them towards the regime’s troops.