CNN's Arwa Damon and Ashley Fantz recorded this interview with a Syrian rebel bomb-maker they refer to as Sheik Omar. In his home in the outskirts of Aleppo, Omar demonstrates how he uses everyday chemicals and old munitions to build new, military-use bombs, mortars, and other explosives. It's an interesting look into the day-to-day of some of Syria's many rebels.
There's a jarring moment about halfway in, when Damon mentions in passing that Omar trained in Libya and fought alongside Palestinians against Israel in the 1980s, possibly during the First Intifada. It's difficult to imagine Omar getting a sympathetic CNN interview (the accompanying article warmly describes his work and home life) while he was making bombs for use against Israelis. That's not a slight on CNN, which is after all only documenting and not endorsing his bomb-making. But it's a reminder of the old adage that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
Today, Omar is, from our perspective, a freedom fighter, building bombs to bring down Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime. But, tomorrow, if that regime should fall and the remaining factions in Syria start competing to fill the vacuum, will Omar remain a freedom fighter to us, or will he become a terrorist? The answer, for this individual, isn't as important as the possibility that many Syrian fighters just like Omar could cross that line once they stop fighting Assad and start potentially fighting one another. Having a country full of people who know how to build mortars shells in their kitchen, and have access to the materials, might not be such a good thing then.
As Assad's fall seems more and more likely, Middle East analysts are starting to worry about what comes next. It's increasingly common to hear concerns that a post-Assad Syria might look like Afghanistan after the Soviet Union's 1989 withdrawal, when the Afghan groups that had cooperated against the invasion turned against one another in a destruction civil war, the consequences of which are still with us today. It's difficult, watching Omar, not to think of Afghan mujahideen who, once our allies against a common enemy, eventually became our enemies.