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Allahu Akbar!': Smoking, Gun-Wielding 8-Year-Old Becomes Symbol of Syrian Rebels

"There is no school, my family is dead, what choice do I have?"

(Photo via the U.K. Daily Telegraph)

(Photo via the U.K. Daily Telegraph)

Several days ago, a photo of an 8-year-old Syrian rebel standing in front of heaps of rubble with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder went viral on the Internet.  The child appears to be smoking and is looking directly at the camera, though he seems to have little interest in it.

"It's a picture that is both haunting and heartbreaking," the Huffington Post wrote.

Now the U.K. Telegraph has tracked down the child, and his story is even more gut-wrenching that you may have imagined.

(Photo: U.K. Daily Telegraph)

The Telegraph reports:

[8-year-old] Ahmed said he went from being a carefree boy with a loving family to a child soldier living on one of the most lethal streets of the devastated city of Aleppo.

"I ended up helping my uncle and his comrades because I have no other choice, there is no school, my family is dead, what choice do I have?" he said.

Ahmed's mother and father died in a mortar strike in Salaheddin neighbourhood, where his father had been working as a fighter with the rebel Free Syrian Army. Now the only person Ahmed has left is his uncle, a rebel who the boy follows and imitates as he fights against government soldiers. [Emphasis added]

Video shows Ahmed dashing across devastated streets clutching what is described as an AK-47, though he admits he's still too small to fire it while in motion.

"Weapons are heavy, I still have a difficult time shooting them," he explained.  "I can only shoot resting on the floor."

(Photo: U.K. Daily Telegraph)

At one point Ahmed yells "Allahu Akbar!" over and over while aiming the weapon, smoking one cigarette after another as older fighters look at him fondly.

A staggering 70,000 people are estimated to have died in the Syrian crisis so far.  Young boys are often sent on smuggling or reconnaissance missions, Human Rights Watch reports, though they are usually closer to 14-years-old than 8.

"With no education, and with many [traumatized] by the violence or from witnessing the death of loved ones, a generation of children is being lost to the Syrian conflict," the Telegraph concludes.

Ahmed weighed in on the deadly civil war: "Sooner or later the regime will kiss you with one of their bullets."

Watch the entire shocking video by the U.K. Telegraph, below:

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