As fighting wears on in the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus, a new weapon has been added to the opposition's arsenal: YouTube combat tutorials. But what are the risks, and is any of it even legal?
A YouTube channel under the name FSAHelp (Free Syrian Army Help) has posted over 80 videos aimed at helping the Syrian opposition to learn different skills – from hand-to-hand combat to making flame-throwers to the basics of assault rifles to creeping up on an enemy from a hidden position.
On his blog, the author of Gary’s Reflections wrote:
I guess it was an inevitable [sic]. A “sign of the times” we live in. The Free Syria Army (FSA) has turned to YouTube and Facebook to train it;s recruits [sic]. The rebels are outgunned [sic], out-manned and, for the most part, aren’t professional soldiers. So they’ve found a new, innovative way to turn citizens into warriors by turning to social media for tutorials in how to use their weapons.
Here’s one of the videos which shows viewers how to assemble and clean a Belgian type of rifle:
Comments posted on the videos are mainly in support for the FSA, and their fight against the dictatorship in Syria, like this commenter.
الله يعينكم وينصركم على أعدائكم الأنجاسsalooooooo7y: God be with you, and help you beat your rotten enemies.
Others gave them tips, correcting some of the information in the videos.
وضعية الأنبطاح من أخطر الوضعيات خاصةً فالشوارع
أذا حد رمى عليك قنبلة يدوية ما تقدر تهرب بسرعةsa3ood16: The prone position is very risky, especially in street fights.
If someone throws a grenade at you, you won’t be able to run away quickly
It also seems that many viewers from Libya and Yemen have some experience to add here. The same goes for those who play video games like Metal Gear.
While people are re-enacting wars in video games, Syrian children are directly impacted by what is going on around them, and in the streets of Taftanaz, they play “FSA vs. Assad”, with wooden sticks as rifles, as shown in this video:
Is posting such videos legal?
Many are raising questions about the legality of such videos.
According to an article in Wired, those videos are probably filmed in the United States (or Canada), and then dubbed into Arabic.
In his blog, dedicated to firearms, Steve Johnson wondered about the legality of those videos according to the laws of the United States:
Is it legal for a US citizen to provide assistance to a foreign army or rebel group? I am unsure. Free speech, in practice, frequently ends at the border. It is perfectly legal to produce a firearm instructional video and upload it to YouTube for consumption inside the USA, but professional training video producers such as Magpul claim that their training videos are regulated by ITAR and require State Department permission to export outside the USA
Evakatrina compared such videos to the case of Bradley Manning, who is a US Army soldier, and he was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed classified material to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
@evakatrina: So #Manning “aided the enemy” but they can’t prove he did harm. But guerrilla [sic] training for general public is ok?
And what about YouTube’s own guidelines?
In their “Harmful and Dangerous Conduct“, YouTube has stated under the United States section (the same message appears in the Canadian section).
[W]e draw the line at content that’s intended to incite violence, encourages or shows dangerous or illegal activities that have an inherent risk of serious physical harm or death. This means not posting videos on things like instructional bomb making, instructional drug use, sniper attacks, or tips on illegal street racing.
FSAHelp also has presence on both Facebook and Twitter; however their original Facebook page has been deleted, but another one was created later on. The people behind the new page are suspecting that the new page, and may be even the YouTube channel, might get deleted any time. They note:
بعد اعلان القناة الروسية عن صفحتنا، تم اغلاقها و لا نستبعد اغلاق قناة اليوتوب. نرجو من الجميع تنزيل الفيديوهات في حال تم ذلك.After the Russian TV channel mentioned our page, it has been deleted, and we think the YouTube channel might get deleted anytime, so we urge you all to download the videos just in case.
Finally, the question remains: should rules be bent for the sake of supporting the Syrian rebels in their fight against an oppressive regime? Or should rules remain in place, given that there are worries the videos can still be used by any terrorist group anywhere in the world? Also, should German Intelligence reports about the presence of Al-Qaida in Syria increase those worries?
This article originally appeared on GlobalVoices, under the title “Syria: Weapons and Combat Tutorials Online”.