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Syria's 'Sniper Moscow' has stopped counting his kills

JUDE LAW probably doesn't know it, but Aleppo's best-known rebel sniper is called after him. He claims to have notched up 76 kills -- at which point he stopped counting. His name is Sniper Moscow.

Sniper Moscow? His colleagues laugh when asked why. "It is after that film, with the Russians in the war," one says. "Oh, you mean Enemy At The Gates?" "Yes," they shout in unison. "Jude Law!"

In the 2001 film Enemy At The Gates, Law plays the Soviet Union's top sniper in the Battle of Stalingrad, snaking his way through the foxholes and smashed buildings of the city, forever hunted by his would-be nemesis, a German counterpart played by Ed Harris.

In Syria's war, Sniper Moscow's role is not so different. He crawls through gaps hammered between apartments to find vantage points from which to fire on his regime counterparts.

Melodrama looms large in the Syrian conflict, and Sniper Moscow and his pals are not the only ones to think of themselves as movie figures.

Fighters in black bandanas love posing with their AK47s for journalists, while anyone not holding a weapon is holding a video camera. The cameras have recorded every move in the past 20 months, telling tales of courage, tragedy and brutality.

Sniper Moscow played up to the role. He was a professional soldier, trained in the army of President Bashar al-Assad before he defected six months ago.

Now he divides his time between the closest of front lines and stints at the rear training the raw recruits.

We found Sniper Moscow in Karem Jabal in the east of Aleppo. He was sitting astride a motorbike. Smart in a regular uniform and with trimmed hair, he narrowed his eyes as he told us about himself.

He was from Al-Bab, a town east of Aleppo, but had been based with the army in Deraa, in the south of the country, before he managed to get away.

He said he had stopped counting his kills last month after reaching 76.

His rifle had brought him a measure of notoriety, but it was not much use against the regime's tanks and artillery, except for his three best hits, when he managed to shoot tank navigators through their vision flaps.

Was there an Ed Harris, a possible regime adversary? He said there were snipers on the other side, but his opponents had decided on a more direct way to deal with him.

"The regime sent two men to assassinate me," he said. It knew about him from the graffiti: he used to write "Sniper Moscow was here" on walls.

"It was about 10 days ago. They were paying money for information about me.

"They were dressed as civilians but people got suspicious and they were arrested. They both had pistols with silencers attached. They are in prison now."

Three-and-a-half months after the rebels swept into Aleppo and Damascus in their biggest gains to date, their momentum has slowed.

The battles for both cities are grinding. In Damascus, they make gains in the suburbs before being cleared by the army's firepower.

Across the country, small rebel advances are punished by merciless aerial attacks.

Sniper Moscow curses. Snipers cannot shoot down fighter jets.


Sunday Independent