SYRIA

How a Nazi artillery gun ended up in the hands of jihadists in Syria

The armed groups fighting in Syria's brutal civil war use any weapons they can get their hands on... even if those weapons are more than 80 years old. A video uploaded this week shows Islamic Front jihadists firing mortar rounds with an artillery gun built by Nazi Germany in the 1930s. But how did it get there in the first place?

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The armed groups fighting in Syria's brutal civil war use any weapons they can get their hands on... even if those weapons are more than 80 years old. A video uploaded this week shows Islamic Front jihadists firing mortar rounds with an artillery gun built by Nazi Germany in the 1930s. But how did it get there in the first place?

German newspaper Bild was one of the first Western media outlets to share the video, which was uploaded onto Islamic Front's YouTube channel. The group is one of Syria's strongest rebel outfits, fighting both the Syrian regime and the Islamic State group at the same time. The video was filmed in Arhia, a city in the northern province of Idlib. It appears to show the group's fighters loading mortar shells into a 105mm Howitzer artillery gun. The specific model shown in the clip - the FH18 - was manufactured by Nazi Germany's armed forces and was used throughout the Second World War.

It's difficult to know exactly how Nazi weapons ended up in the hands of rebel groups fighting in Syria. But according to the Washington Post, several experts confirm that Syria's government forces already had several of these artillery guns in their arsenal. It's possible the models were given or sold to the Syrian regime by the Soviet Union, whose armed forces may have snatched the weapons during its victory over Nazi Germany. The artillery pieces may also have been sold by East Germany. The rebel fighters may have seized the weapons from the regime... or even stolen them from a museum.

Without a doubt, these old artillery guns are far less sophisticated and effective than their modern counterparts. Despite that, they do have their advantages: thanks to a relatively simple design, they're easy to handle and can also be improved by adding modern components. Either way, in Syria's civil war, the use of arms that date back to World War Two is nothing new. In 2012, rebels from the Al-Tahwid brigade [Editor's note: the group merged with several others to form Islamic Front in 2013] published a video in which its fighters lay their hands on a batch of StG 44 rifles. The gun, another brainchild of Nazi Germany, is widely considered to be the first modern assault rifle.