In a bizarre twist, just months after his release from jail, Othman was drafted into the Syrian army, sent to artillery training school, and was eventually
assigned to perform tech duties for an artillery unit, where he saw his first scuds. After discharge, he worked for the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom
of Expression until his boss, noted journalist and lawyer Mazen Darwish, was arrested.
Still, Jeffrey Lewis, a missile expert following the Syrian conflict at the Monterey Institute for Strategic Studies, who has advised Othman on the
project, is worried both about Othman's own safety and the potential for mass arrests by the Syrian regime of anyone near a scud base.
"I don't want to know how you know your spotters," Lewis told Othman. "You need to make sure your spotters don't know one another and one person doesn't
know multiple spotters."
"It's built on trust," Othman replied. He is in contact with opposition coordinators in Syria who know and trust one another. He has applied for asylum
protection in the United States and has decided to use his real name for the project. "If I will not use my real name, people will not trust this," he
If Aymta works, it could save lives. It could also energize the new generation of activists trying to harness advanced technologies to lessen the power
imbalance between repressive, well-armed governments and their unarmed but well-networked citizens.
This attempt at asymmetric peace-fare may also offer Syrians who have been attacked by their own government a sense that they can do something, however
limited, to control their fates.
But even if Aymta works, it won't tip the military balance of the war, which is now tilting in Assad's favor. And there is no app for car bombs, for
militias that have surrounded towns and massacred residents, for sarin gas, artillery or bombs tossed from helicopters. All of these tactics have
terrorized unarmed Syrians.
Civilians in war zones have a right to collective self-defense, but can rarely exercise that right in high-tech modern warfare. President Obama's newly
announced lethal aid to the Syrian rebels includes small arms and undefined intelligence-sharing, but does not include PATRIOT anti-missile batteries or
any anti-air defenses that would help rebels shoot down incoming scuds or other missiles. Nor can the
supplied by Qatar shoot down scuds.
The Aymta software automatically calculates the trajectory and likely arrival time of the missile. The more data it receives about where and when attacks
are imminent, the more its accuracy will improve. Though the U.S., Turkey, and other countries may have radar or other data that could warn of scud launches, they don't share, said Lewis. He believes the U.S. should provide whatever information it can to the residents of Aleppo and other cities under
Meanwhile, Othman and his partners intend to expand the Aymta system to warn civilians of other types of threats -- including approaching tanks, convoys of
militia fighters, or other information. Othman plans to share his open-source software for use by activists in other countries. "This is not just for
Syria," he said. "We believe there are a lot of people in the world who are in a bad situation like ours."