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In Syria, All's Fair in Love, Tech and Civil War

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, February 14 2014

There is more than a bit of Pygmalion in Haidar's story (Marissa-rissa)

They say all's fair in love and war, and this story contains a bit of each.

Yesterday The Guardian profiled Ahmad Haidar, a hacker and technologist who uses his skills to battle the Syrian government. After the Syrian Electronic Army offered him a position in the group in 2011, he bailed on them in favor of the rebels. He used to make viruses to infect state-controlled websites, and he named them after—who else—ex-girlfriends.

Haidar's newest project is a robot that can move injured sniper victims into a safe, armored compartment without risking other lives (Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s snipers often first maim the victim in order to draw out other targets that come to the victim's rescue). He has named it Tena, after a Finnish woman he once sat next to on an airplane.

“[I] fell in love with [her] for an hour,” Haidar told The Guardian, adding that he is now happily married.

A previous story in Global Post last May had Tena as a Swedish redhead, so it might verge on the apocryphal.

Haidar and a childhood friend have been working on Tena outside of a Turkish border town. They have completed the most technically challenging part, the robotic arms, and now need a bulldozer chassis. Funding is an issue, and an attempt to crowdfund has not been fruitful.

However, Haidar's ambitions are modest.

“If she saves one person and shows it can be done, then it will all be worth it,” he told The Guardian.

In his previous work with the hackers known as the Pirates of Aleppo, he used to “clean” up rebel activists social media profiles when they were arrested. In lieu of anti-government messages or anything else revolutionary, Haidar would swap in a pornographic photo.

He told Global Post that, “Pornography would make [the authorities] relax. It got the best reaction. The guys would be investigated for a few hours, maybe a little torture but nothing major. Then they’d be released.”

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