Syria remains locked in a full-on civil war.
Rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad lack heavy weapons.
So they’re trying to compensate with home-made bombs, what American forces in Iraq would have called improvised explosive devices or IEDs.
The BBC’s James Reynolds has just been to a rebel bomb factory in Turkey, just across the border from Syria.
Reynolds says these are small home-made devices, intended for use against the Syrian army.
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Marco Werman: Whatever the true nature of the reported Israeli strikes, Syria remains locked in a full-on civil war. Rebels opposed to President Assad lack heavy weapons, so they are trying to compensate with homemade bombs, what American forces in Iraq would have called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The BBC’s James Reynolds has just been to a rebel bomb factory in Turkey, just across the border from Syria. So James, paint a picture for us. What does this place look like?
James Reynolds: Imagine a beaten up old farmhouse, and inside on the stone floors you have wooden tables, and on those wooden tables you’ve got piles and piles of ingredients. We didn’t look too closely at them, but the bomb makers assured us that they were pretty safe. They contained the ingredients they needed to make the explosives. They spent some time on the ground with a mallet trying to shatter a bottle of ice, because they needed that ice in order to help cool some of the ingredients. When we were there we watched them mix the early stages of nitro glycerin.
Werman: So are these military grade explosives they’re using or are they kind of starting from scratch and improvising with do-it-yourself chemistry experiments?
Reynolds: To me, as a non-expert observer, it looked more like homemade style explosives They said that they were able to get some of the ingredients they needed from informal networks that they built up over the last year or so.
Werman: So in order to build bombs, you need someone who knows how to do it. Where is the training coming from for bomb making?
Reynolds: It comes from what they learned having been soldiers in President Assad’s army, in the many years before 2011 when the uprising began. One of the people I was speaking to said that that’s where he learned what he was doing and he was trying to pass on his knowledge to others. There was another man in the three-strong team that I met called Abu Achmed, who was actually a business graduate. He’d studied business at university in Syria, and the expert bomb maker was going to spend a month with Abu Achmed, the business graduate, to teach him the skill of bomb making.
Werman: How do the Syrian rebels hope to use these bombs they are making? Against people, or buildings, or against the Syrian army?
Reynolds: Against the army, and that was a question I asked several times. I even said how do you know that you’re not going to be killing innocent men, women and children with these bombs. One of the bomb makers, Abu Achmed, he showed me a sign he had. Essentially it said in Arabic, attention, warning. He said they would put that sign, they would stick that sign up to warn civilians not to approach the area. Now that can only work if you have total control of the area. It’s not much good in a fluid situation, and I think there will be much greater scrutiny of the rebels as the conflict continues, as perhaps their weaponry increases and people begin to ask questions about where they’re placing the explosives and who is killed when those explosives go off. I think those questions are only just beginning as the rebels get stronger.
Werman: There have been some targeted and indiscriminate bombings in pro-Assad neighborhoods. Did you discuss this at the bomb factory with any of the volunteers there?
Reynolds: No, this was on a much more rudimentary level, the kind of bombs we were looking at, and certainly they, they actually said, interestingly, that they didn’t make any suicide vests and that they were certainly not after carrying out the kind of attacks that we’ve seen carried out by the Nusra fronts. That’s a front which certainly Western intelligence agencies believe is inspired by al-Qaeda, which has carried out a number of indiscriminate, people would say, suicide attacks against government targets in the last year or so. These people said that they were trying to carry out targeted attacks against military targets, so there is a differentiation there.
Werman: The BBC’s James Reynolds in southern Turkey, just across the border from Syria. Thank you very much.
Reynolds: My pleasure.
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