To the other men in his Free Syrian Army unit, he's simply known as the Sniper, a 21-year-old army-trained sharpshooter who defected on Feb. 21 and joined their ranks. Few of his colleagues know his first name, let alone his surname--and that's the way he wants to keep it.
He hails from a Sunni military family in a town on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus. His uncle is a general in President Bashar Assad's army. Several of his other relatives are also high-ranking military officers. Apart from his parents and siblings, however, his kinfolk all think he's dead--and that's the way he wants to keep it.
A trim young man with closely cropped black hair and beard, he looks intense but calm as he sits in complete silence for hours, finger on the trigger, peering through the telescopic sight of his Dragunov sniper rifle. He's careful not to let its barrel protrude through the double-fist-size peephole he has punched through an apartment wall, lest it give away his location to the regime's sharpshooters, some of whom are only about 165 ft (50 m) away.
He may look calm, but he's deeply troubled. After some nine months of fighting with several Free Syrian Army units, first on the outskirts of Aleppo and then in the city itself after the rebel push into it in late July, he has grown disillusioned with the fight and angry with its conduct. "I did this when it was clean," he says. "Now it's dirty. Many aren't fighting just to get rid of Bashar, they're fighting to gain a reputation, to build up their name. I want it to go back to the way it was, when we were fighting for God and the people, not for some commander's reputation."
He refused an order in November to fight a proregime, ethnic Kurdish militia in a Kurdish neighborhood of Aleppo that the rebels had entered. "Why should I fight the Kurds?" he says. "It's a distraction. This isn't our fight."
Syrians in the opposition, whether armed or not, have often said there may be a revolution after the revolution to unseat Assad. The fault lines differ depending on whom you talk to. Some envision a fight between Islamist and secular rebels; others between defectors and armed civilians; some say it will be ethnic, between Kurds and Arabs; others simply territorial, between rebel commanders in a particular area, irrespective of ideology. Others say it won't happen at all. But the Sniper, like many fighting men, thinks that it will and that it will be ugly: "We will not become Somalia after Bashar falls," he says. "We will have many Somalias in every province."
It didn't start this way--neither for this young rebel nor the revolution. "I think I'm unrecognizable now," the Sniper says. "I never really thought I'd kill someone." But he has killed--34 people who did not see his bullet coming, including, he suspects but cannot quite admit, his childhood friend Mohammad, a man who was "dearer to me than a brother."