‘War is great business!’ Syria gun sellers cash in on conflict

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While most Syrians get poorer with every day of war, Aleppo’s main gun seller Abu Mohammad is doing just fine by selling firearms, including rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and even swords.

“War is great business,” said the northern city’s only gunshop owner, as he laid several hand grenades out on a counter.

“I wanted to help the rebels because they had no arms or ammunition,” the 39-year-old told AFP, adding that he makes an astonishing 50,000 Syrian pounds ($370) a day.

Abu Mohammad opened his gun store in the rebel-held neighborhood of Fardos earlier this year after a leg injury cut short a nine-month stint battling alongside the Free Syrian Army.

Several weapons are exhibited on the shop walls, including 9mm guns and AK-47 assault rifles, one of them silver-plated.

“They’re made in Iraq and Russia, and prices range from $1,500 to $2,000, depending on the quality,” said Abu Mohammad’s 20-year-old son, a rebel fighter who lends a hand in the store.

“We also have military uniforms, boots, gas masks and walkie-talkies. Most of the material comes from Turkey,” he added.

Reaching for a 9mm gun, Mohammad says he enjoys helping his father out in the shop because “I love weapons.”

It’s 4:00 pm (1300 GMT) and the two men running the family business are busy serving clients.

Mohammad Assi, 43, walks in along with several of his brothers in arms. He is looking for ammunition for his rifle.

Counting a wad of cash, Assi says he would like to buy a new rifle, “but these models aren’t very good and they’re too expensive.”

He hands over 15,000 Syrian pounds ($110) for 150 rounds.

“100 pounds for a bullet,” the rebel sighs. “Ammo is so scarce. That’s why it’s the most expensive thing to buy.”

Gun seller Abu Mohammad understands there’s a shortage of cash, so he’s open to making deals with some of his clients.

“When the rebels seize an army base, they come to my store and swap weapons for ammunition,” he said.

Some buyers come in looking for more specialized products, including one who wants a scope that will help locate snipers.

Another walks in holding three swords and shows them to Abu Mohammad, who unsheathes them and inspects them for quality.

“We also buy weapons off people who need the money to feed their families,” Abu Mohammad says.

“Before the war broke out, there were many people who collected weapons, or who held onto them after they’d finished their draft service. They aren’t going to use them, so they bring them over to me to make some money off them,” he added.

Though most of Abu Mohammad’s clients are rebels, some civilians visit his store as well.

“I only sell hunting weapons and 9mm guns to civilians. I never sell them military-grade weapons,” he said.

More than a year after a massive rebel assault on Aleppo -- once Syria’s commercial capital -- the city is divided into rebel and army-controlled districts.

Those who have not fled the city face not only escalating poverty and daily battles in their districts, but also the danger of theft and looting by criminal groups.

“I’m here to buy a gun... Because of the situation, I prefer to be armed in order to protect my family,” said a 65-year-old man who brought his grandson to Abu Mohammad’s store.

The gun seller is also adept at repairing damaged weapons.

Laying out a sniper rifle on his work table, he points a laser light through the barrel to check its accuracy.

“I’ve always liked fixing weapons and making them,” said Abu Mohammad, who used to work at a weapons factory.

“It’s one of the few things I’m good at,” he says with a smile.

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