For This Syrian Rebel Sniper, the War Is Personal

Said Mermet joined the Free Syrian Army after the military killed his nephew. “After he died, I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “Fighting the regime is not about revenge, but I am trying to honor my nephew.”

His house — blown up. His former job — computer technician. His recent combat experience — serving as a sniper in Aleppo. Mermet now guards the Bab Al Salameh border crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border.

“Killing a human spirit is very hard, harder than you can imagine,” he said during an interview in an internally-displaced persons camp where he lives. “We are still humans. We are not criminals who would consider killing people as something easy to do.”

“But we started to feel normal about it, because they are our enemies.”

Mermet takes a pragmatic view of the Islamic State, which has imposed grim theocratic rule over swathes of eastern Syria. The jihadist fighters are an enemy … of his enemy. “God bless them that they are fighting on our behalf,” he said. “If you came for jihad, you are welcome.”

It’s an approach that collides head-on with Washington’s strategy to recruit FSA rebels to battle the Islamic State. The fact is — many of those rebels would rather keep their guns aimed at the Bashar Al Assad regime, seeing it as their main enemy which should be defeated first.

But Mermet hedged. “If you came to rule our country, that means you came to be like Bashar,” he said. “We will never allow [the Islamic State] to rule Syria.”

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