Homemade grenades and catapults: Introducing the DIY weapons of the Free Syrian Army

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Distribution remains haphazard among the various battalions and  some of them have to rely on a cottage industry to provide themselves with arms

Defence Correspondent

The rebels should never have fired back; they did so out of pride and thus exposed their position further to salvos of machine gun and mortar rounds from Assad’s forces.

At one point during this hopelessly mismatched exchange a Remington pump-action shotgun being used by one of the fighters, Abu Karim, simply fell apart, possibly due to metal fatigue.

After we had managed to get away, Commander Abdul Haq displayed the weapons of the 50 revolutionaries under his command: 20 hunting rifles shotguns and handguns, including a Soviet Star pistol proudly bearing the place of manufacture, CCCP, and the date, 1948, and a British Webley revolver, circa the 1930s. The next day the group got its first semi-automatic, a regime-issue Kalashnikov, bought from a soldier for $ 2,000 (£1,300).

This was near the village of Darkush, in Syria’s Idlib province in February last year, just before the bloodletting began in earnest and the opposition began to smuggle in weapons on a large scale. Distribution, however, remains haphazard among the various khatibas (battalions) and  some of them have to rely on a cottage industry to provide themselves with arms.

Carpenters and plumbers have turned into proficient armourers. The ingenious improvisations include “grenades” fashioned from ornamental balls; catapults for firing incendiaries; “armoured cars” of corrugated iron sheets bolted on to pick-up trucks, IEDs (improvised explosive devices) made Afghan style from fertilisers and any assortment of home-made artillery and missiles. The Islamist fighters of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra are the best-armed among the opposition, receiving generous supplies from sympathisers in Qatar and the Gulf. On Wednesday the Congressional committees in Washington gave approval to the Obama administration’s plans to send military items to more moderate opposition factions. Britain and France have lifted European Union sanctions on Syria, but the Commons voted by 114 to one earlier this month in favour of a motion which requires the Government to hold a parliamentary vote before weapons can be sent.

US supplies are expected to be limited to small arms. British and American military figures have warned that is unlikely to have any effect on the course of the war. The West is opposed to sending the one item which could actually be a game-changer – surface-to-air missiles – due to fear they will fall into the hands of jihadists.

Even the more exotic of the rebels’ home-made weapons can be effective – most of the time. Last summer I witnessed a catapult being used to lob explosives into an army base in the town of al-Bab, near Aleppo, with some success. On the seventh launch, however, the whole structure collapsed; everyone stood stock still looking at the bomb on the ground before a general stampede away from the area.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?