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Driving a Syrian Bus May be the Riskiest Job in the World

Published: 02nd February 2015 08:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd February 2015 08:25 AM   |  A+A-

ISIS

IS terror group members pose with their guns for a picture | File Photo

BEIRUT: The windscreen of Mohammed's coach was so cracked that it was held together with adhesive tape. Bullet holes had pierced the side. Fans and reading lights above the passenger seats had been ripped out to prevent smuggled weapons being hidden in the vent behind them.

Mohammed - a slender man in his mid-forties with a nervous twitch - is a bus driver in Syria, which may now be the most dangerous job in the world.

Even in the throes of civil war, the country's public transport has not stopped. But the journeys involve crossing front lines, accelerating through armed clashes and running the gauntlet of kidnap by pro-regime gunmen and jihadists alike.

"A lot of times my bus was shot at," said Mohammed. "I have driven through live clashes between the armed groups and the regime."

Every few days Mohammed, who spoke under a pseudonym, drives from Beirut in Lebanon to Aleppo in northern Syria, a journey across the devastated country.

He bore a thick scar above his left eye - a shrapnel wound incurred during one his journeys.

"I was on the highway and suddenly we were in a full battle," he said. "I opened the driver's door and started running, but a shell exploded nearby. The shrapnel cut my face and broke my arm."

Mohammed's journeys had improved in recent months when the regime began allowing public transport buses onto a military road through the regime's heartland province of Latakia. But the buses are still the prey of militia groups, who line their pockets with money taken from the driver and passengers.

Close to Mohammed's coach, another driver, Abed, sat behind the wheel of an equally battered vehicle. Much of his face was covered in a thick but patchy beard. On the journey it can make the difference between life and death. "If I don't have a beard, then at best the jihadists won't let me enter their area," he said.

Abed regularly drives from Beirut in Lebanon to Raqqa in northeast Syria, the "de facto capital" of terrain controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

"It's a very hard situation," he said. "Every time you leave your house you wonder if you will ever return."

On his journeys to Raqqa, Abed stops the bus at the last checkpoint in regime-held territory to let his female passengers put on their black burkas and niqab face coverings. This is mandatory dress for women in the Isil areas.

Leaving Raqqa, most of his passengers are either families with children, or the elderly. Isil does not allow men out of the city in a move to prevent them from going and fighting with the regime.

Recently militiamen forced all Abed's passengers from the coach. "They demanded every-one's mobile phones," he said.

"When one person put up resistance they shot directly around their feet to scare them. Other times they have just killed people on the spot."

For all the dangers, though, in Syria's depressed economy neither Abed nor Mohammed can afford to give up work.

"How would I feed my family," asked Abed. "It's my only choice."

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