Aleppo, Syria - Mahmoud al-Halabi was once the driver of a Syrian minister’s wife. Nour al-Hassan was a stylish hairdresser. In the early days of the Syrian uprising, their personal rebellions brought them together and have since pushed them both to become fighters in Aleppo’s battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Mahmoud, a 28-year-old rebel fighting on the frontline in the Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood, was fired from his job three years ago. He said he was jailed and tortured by the regime for a year, and then forced to leave Syria.
His crime? He had fallen in love with the minister’s daughter.
He fled to Libya, where he took up his professional passion: sculpting. But when the Libyan revolution broke out in February 2011, he joined his friends in their battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
"This is where I learned most of the fighting skills I now use in the fight against Assad," Mahmoud told Al Jazeera in Sheikh Saeed, now the most active frontline in the city.
Nour, 22, was a hair stylist at a salon in the centre of Aleppo. She is also the daughter a senior official in the ruling Baath Party.
A few months into the Syrian uprising, Mahmoud returned to Aleppo to join his countrymen in the struggle against Assad. Nour, meanwhile, had created a Facebook account under a pseudonym and became an activist on social media, organising protests and spreading news about the regime’s crackdown.
When her father and brother, staunch supporters of Assad, learned about her opposition activities, they beat her to the point that she wound up in hospital. Her story became the talk of the town, and Mahmoud heard about her.
"After I was released from hospital, I was stuck at home. Mahmoud came to help me escape the house," she said. "I didn’t know him well, but I still left with him. I completely defected from my family."
On the frontline
The two began organising protests and distributing anti-regime pamphlets. As the uprising turned into an armed struggle, they were both in favour of it.
"We began transporting weapons into the Salaheddin neighbourhood together. I taught her how to use guns. Initially, I was teaching her for self-protection because her father organised several kidnapping attempts to bring her back home," Mahmoud said…
"Later she wanted to participate in the fighting. We had many fights because of that but she eventually got her way," he said..
Nour has become a sniper on the frontline in Sheikh Saeed, where rebels are trying to push back regime forces and block the main road to Aleppo International Airport.
Recently, she said she had shot down a regime sniper who was targeting rebels in the neighbourhood.
Her comrades call her Abu al-Nour - a masculine nickname.
"I don’t see her as a female. She is one of the best snipers we have in the battalion. That’s how I see her," Ahmad, a rebel fighter, said.
Nour said she leaves all femininity behind when she goes to the frontline.
"I do not feel like a woman whatsoever when I am here," she said.