Syrian rebels go shopping for supplies and bomb-making equipment on trips to Turkey
“We have a Turkish contact with a warehouse where we stockpile everything, and then teams come through to pick up supplies and take them over. Rich merchants from Saudi Arabia send us money every month, via Western Union, to keep the whole thing afloat.”
Sitting beside Hassan was the mechanical engineer, Emre Abu Isra, a key player who has designed many of the group’s improvised weapons.
The logistics team is to take the materials across the border to the town of Tal Rif’at, Emre said, where they will be delivered to “The Candy Factory”, a makeshift workshop in which 200 shells and 20 rockets are produced each day.
“We use a C8 Bulgarian moulding machine to produce the casings,” he said, “this yummy stuff here, combined with animal urine, as explosives”, indicating the fertiliser, “and then we fire the mortars and rockets out of specially adapted water pipes mounted on an aluminium base equipped with the explosive pins to provide propulsion”. It has taken time to perfect the improvised rockets . “The first soldier to fire one actually lost his leg when the rocket went full circle and came back on him!” said Emre. But the latest versions are “100 per cent accurate”, he claimed.
Hassan said, “Tonight we eat and sleep – tomorrow we’ll see about getting you everything you need.”
Early the next morning, the group gathered in the city centre, where they entered what seemed to be a convenience store. Women stood studying shelves of perfumes and shampoos, but through a narrow section at the back a larger room full of military supplies came into view: flak jackets, radios, rifle scopes and binoculars. The first order was for radios, or “fists” as the logistics team called them. They bought 20.
Then the waiting game began for the main objective of the mission: a 50kg barrel of aluminium powder, a vital component for making explosive devices capable of piercing armour and even of crippling tanks.
In the end it took all day – the sun had set before the call came in. Pizza Boy took the team to a warehouse at the edge of the city. The barrel was slowly rolled out and placed in the boot of the car.
Throughout the day the atmosphere had been jovial. Now the men faced the long and dangerous journey back to Syria across a smuggling route. Cigarettes were popped into mouths and a mix tape of techno and hip-hop inserted into the stereo, as Pizza Boy set off from Antakya to the border town of Kilis, never driving below 90 miles per hour.
As they approached the border crossing of Bab Al-Salaam, the fighter called a contact. “We’ll be there in 20 minutes,” he said. “Yes we will”, said Pizza Boy with a wink, “because no one knows this route like I do”.