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  Secret Syria group saves lives with air raid warnings

Secret Syria group saves lives with air raid warnings

AFP | MAYA GEBEILY
Published : Jan 21, 2016, 11:44 pm IST
Updated : Jan 21, 2016, 11:44 pm IST

In Syria’s coastal Latakia province, Abu Mohammad sends a warning from his phone to a secret network of colleagues: “Caution: A Russian plane just took off in your direction.”

In Syria’s coastal Latakia province, Abu Mohammad sends a warning from his phone to a secret network of colleagues: “Caution: A Russian plane just took off in your direction.”

Moments later, activists in a rebel-held area in northwestern Syria sound warning sirens that prompt civilians to take cover before incoming air raids.

The message, sent via WhatsApp, is part of an effort by a network of civilian and rebel coordinators across Syria who call themselves “the monitors”.

From positions near government-held military airports, they use messaging services or walkie-talkies — depending on Internet coverage — to warn activists, medics, and rebels about incoming aerial attacks.

They track flight paths and try to decipher communication codes to warn them that Syrian or Russian military aircraft are headed their way.

Fearing retribution from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, “the monitors” will not divulge their names or locations.

But Abu Mohammad agreed to speak using a pseudonym.

He says he is based near a Syrian Army position in the regime stronghold of Latakia, and describes dodging artillery and Russian reconnaissance drones to keep an eye on outgoing warplanes.

His job has become even more complicated since September 30, when long-time regime ally Russia began an air campaign in support of the government.

Russia operates military aircraft from Latakia’s seaside military airport of Hmeimim, where thousands of its troops are also based.

“I know when the plane takes off, and as soon as it does, I tell people that a plane is coming towards them,” he said.

Location: Lebanon, Beirut