Syrian-Americans Contribute To Rebels' Cause

Some Syrians in the U.S. are wracked with guilt that they can't do more to help their countrymen. Others are taking action. One Syrian-American gun enthusiast is doing his part to arm and train the rebels, and a Syrian doctor hopes to help train civilian doctors in conflict zones on trauma medicine. (This piece initially aired March 5, 2013 on All Things Considered.)

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For nearly two years, Syrians living in the United States have watched their home country fall apart. Now in a moment, we'll hear the story of one Syrian-American who's watched the conflict from her home in Michigan, but who hasn't escaped tragedy. First, we bring you an encore broadcast of a report from NPR's Kelly McEvers.

She told us the story of one man who used his vacation time to travel from California back to Syria. His plan: to help the rebels bring down the government.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: He goes by the name Abu Ahmed. He doesn't want us to use his real name or his real profession. He doesn't even want us to say the name of the village in Syria where we met him last week. Abu Ahmed says it was nighttime when he crossed into Syria with 16 big duffel bags full of, quote, unquote, "tactical stuff." He's cagey about what that means.

His plan was to deliver the stuff to rebel fighters. He says the craziest thing was seeing part of his home country no longer under government control.

ABU AHMED: It was like the greatest pleasure in my life, that I would have no fear. I put 16 bag right on the freeway side, open them and gave every team what he asked me to bring.

MCEVERS: Driving into Syria with more stuff to give other teams of rebel fighters, Abu Ahmed started to understand how bad the conditions really are.

AHMED: Like from the Turkish border till here, I didn't see a single light. It was dark, no power. I realized, like, how big the problem is.

MCEVERS: Then, once he got to the village, he realized not only are the conditions pretty primitive, but it's not the exciting frontline experience he might have been hoping for. Most days are spent sitting around a smoky room with a rebel commander and his men. They don't even have enough ammunition to go out and fight.

AHMED: And if you go to see his storage and cache of weapon, I have more under my bed at home in California, honest to God. Like, they have nothing to fight with.

MCEVERS: It's a complaint we hear a lot in Syria. The Islamist fighters are well supported, mainly by private donors and rich gulf countries, but these more moderate fighters, the defected soldiers and civilians who've taken up arms have yet to get the support they say they were promised by the West and its allies. Abu Ahmed takes to a storage room where he sleeps to show us what's in those bags of tactical stuff.

AHMED: This is my bed here.

MCEVERS: OK. And this is a lot of the stuff you brought?

AHMED: This is the stuff I brought, yeah.

MCEVERS: Wow. Wind-powered generators, walkie-talkies, bullets, camouflage, laser scopes to mount on rifles, tactical vests, a handgun. Those are a couple of car batteries? Abu Ahmed even has his own assault rifle. So you brought your AR with you?

AHMED: No, no, no.

MCEVERS: Oh.

AHMED: Just have it here.

MCEVERS: So wait, how did you - what do you mean you just have it here? How did you get it?

AHMED: I'm not going to tell you that.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: As we're walking, I realize Abu Ahmed is dressed like he just walked out of a gun catalogue: cargo pants and combat boots. Do you feel like a war tourist?

AHMED: No. I feel obligated. Sitting in California kills me. And just like I really can't do anything. Like, talking to Kelly everyday doesn't help my people, so I have to help them in a different way.

MCEVERS: Abu Ahmed is originally from the city of Hama, less than an hour's drive away. His mother wanted to see him and bring him his favorite Syrian food, but his brother decided it was too dangerous.

AHMED: So they decided to send the food with a guy to me.

MCEVERS: Needless to say, penetrating deep into rough rebel territory is not how most Syrian-Americans do their part. For Abu Ahmed though, it's about doing something that feels right. And right now, he says, fighting feels right.

AHMED: I always tell the guys that, yeah, we in America enjoy our liberty. But believe me, they put much more blood than we did so far. Right?

MCEVERS: In the Civil War?

AHMED: In the Civil War. So nothing come for free. If you're going to delay it, you're going to put it out for a while. It's going to come. You have to pay blood to get your freedom.

MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News.

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