War tourists flock to Syria's front lines

Journalists who cover war grow quickly accustomed to the strange assembly of characters who show up in border towns looking for a battle. In the past six months alone, Kilis has housed a French woman armed with boxes of antidepressants to hand out to refugees; a Japanese man who went to Aleppo several times a week just to do a bit of shooting; an Italian woman whose fixer claims she went searching for alien DNA on the front lines; numerous foreign jihadists; and amateur photographers whose blunders have created extremely dangerous circumstances for locals on the ground.

After a brief exchange to decipher why Smith, Alencar, and Mousa wanted to go to Syria, the journalists told them to go home. “Tyler’s heart was in the right place, but he didn’t know what he was doing,” recalls one of the journalists. “And he really seemed to be under Joe’s influence.”

“I wanted to prove to myself that I can handle this with my own bravado,” said Alencar, “that I can throw myself into the ring and survive.”…

A life-long Catholic, Alencar converted to Islam on his second day in Syria. “What better place to do it?” he says with a laugh. He’s now been a practicing Muslim for ten months. “A lot of people convert, but not actually in the struggle.”

But Alencar’s biggest struggle ended up being with the rebels who were, in the words of his Kilis-based fixer, “babysitting him.” He found al-Bab too safe, too boring. All he really wanted to do —all he had paid to do—was go shooting on the frontlines of battle-torn Aleppo. But that never happened because the supervising FSA brigade swiftly took the guns away and told them they couldn’t go.