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An afternoon with a Syrian bombmaker

By Arwa Damon and Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 5:44 AM EST, Wed December 12, 2012
  • With help from his kids, Sheik Omar makes bombs in his kitchen for Syrian opposition
  • He grew up in Syria and was, from a young age, fascinated with weapon construction
  • He insists that he's a man of peace, and his bombs are killing the right people

Aleppo, Syria (CNN) -- With the precision of a master chef, Sheik Omar adjusts the intensity of the flame under his pan.

He mixes table sugar with a noxious chemical, letting it hiss and crackle.

"It's almost ready," he says, as the syrupy liquid darkens.

Sheik Omar keeps his face hidden. Bomb makers always work in secret.

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
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He looks at us and his eyes are friendly and calm. Our crew is unafraid. He's clearly been at this for many years. He has all his fingers. A Syrian, he grew up existing with death and violence and a government that made people live in fear. So wouldn't a young man naturally fascinated with putting things together end up constructing weapons for a living?

While he works in the kitchen of his family home in Aleppo Province, Sheik Omar tells us that he's a man of peace.

Read more: What will 'recognizing' the opposition accomplish?

He believes he doesn't have a choice but to make bombs. Foreign countries aren't helping the rebels enough to overtake the heavily armed forces that President Bashar al-Assad commands. The rebels need all the help they can get.

Those men across the country, he says, have abandoned their regular lives teaching or selling clothes or being lawyers to come together and fight to get rid of that man. It's been nearly two years. They've lost their lives and families. At least 40,000 Syrians have died. Someone with his skills should do what he can.

Sheik Omar shouts out the window to his kids playing in the yard.

Bring your father more sugar, please!

The kids bounce into the house, helping him, handing him ingredients.

There are half-made bombs and rockets around the house. His wife is in another room. She isn't talking to us, which isn't strange. This is his interview, and she's showing deference.

Sheik Omar tells us as he cooks that he used to work with an assistant. That was years ago when he was less experienced. There was an explosion, and the assistant died.

Better to work alone, he says.

Besides, he doesn't make much money at all doing this. He does this because he believes he has a purpose, and he's good at it.

Sheik Omar tells us he trained in Libya in weapons making and fought alongside the Palestinians against the Israelis in the 1980s. He's always believed that Israel is the oppressor, and no matter what, the Palestinians have a right to their land. In his time as a soldier for the Palestinian cause, the Israelis caught him twice and detained him.

What do you imagine happens to a man in that circumstance? But that was nothing, compared to what al-Assad is doing, he huffs.

The Israelis, they had more mercy, Sheik Omar insists.

Read more: U.S. branding of al-Nusra as terrorists may backfire

Human rights workers, journalists and Syrians fighting to oust the longtime president claim al-Assad has established torture centers around the country, chaining prisoners by their wrists for days, beating them and inflicting unspeakable pain. There have been reports of children being shot by regime snipers, stories of al-Assad's forces going door to door and murdering whole families.

Al-Assad has claimed for these many months of violence that "terrorists" are attacking Syria, and the country has a right to defend itself.

Sheik Omar shows us one of his latest creations. It's a sleek rocket that stands about three feet off the ground. The thing looks sophisticated. It's hard to tell he's cobbled it together from bits and pieces of unexploded ordinances fired by al-Assad's forces.

Sheik Omar gingerly holds the rocket.

"From here to here, for example," he says, tracing his fingers along its body, "It's our adjustment, as are the fins."

It's a crude device, like many of the ones he makes. Sometimes he would construct something and it would, mid-flight, turn around and shoot back at him.

But these are the hazards he's willing to deal with.

Sheik Omar uses the word democracy. Syria could be democratic, he believes.

First the al-Assad regime must go. But that won't be the end.

There will be a revolution after this one. There will be more bloodshed.

Revolution begets revolution, he insists. It will take several cycles of violence before Syria can hope for peace.

What other choice do people like him have? he asks. How else to get rid of the extremists?

U.N. envoy: Political solution to Syria crisis 'still possible'

CNN's Arwa Damon reported from Syria. CNN's Ashley Fantz wrote this story in Atlanta.

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