IHS Jane's Report: Islamic Extremists Dominate Rebel Fight in Syria

Image: IHS Jane's Report: Islamic Extremists Dominate Rebel Fight in Syria A fighter with the jihadist group al-Nusra Front, bearing the flag of al-Qaida on his jacket, holds position with fellow fighters in the Syrian village of Aziza, on the southern outskirts of Aleppo.

Monday, 16 Sep 2013 09:52 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Nearly half the rebel fighters in Syria's civil war are Islamists or jihadists, according to an upcoming report by the intelligence analysts, IHS Jane's.

"The insurgency is now dominated by groups which have at least an Islamist viewpoint on the conflict. The idea that it is mostly secular groups leading the opposition is just not borne out," Charles Lister, author of the analysis said, according to a report in Britain's Daily Telegraph.

Some 100,000 fighters have been battling the Bashar Assad regime for two years but they are fragmented into hundreds of bands, some of which are loyal to larger factions. Almost all the rebels are Sunni. The regime is Alawite, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

The report to be published this week says around 10,000 rebel fighters have come from outside Syria and are fighting for factions linked to al-Qaida.

Another 30,000-35,000 are hardline Islamist Syrians who share similar views but who are focused on the civil war in their country rather than a wider international struggle.

Some 30,000 are more moderate Muslims, leaving just a small percentage being secular or nationalists.

European and American observers place the number of fighters even remotely tolerable to Western interests at less than one third of the opposition forces.

Western policymakers fear weapons they supply to the more moderate forces could wind up in hostile hands. The moderate fighters want to overthrow Assad, Syria's authoritarian dictator, while jihadist groups want to transform the country into a hard-line Islamic state that is part of a regional Muslim caliphate.

It's a tricky balance. If the West looks as though it is not seriously interested in removing Assad this could push the relative moderates closer to the Islamists, Lister of IHS Jane's says.

The CIA has now begun arming Syrian rebels overtly, the Washington Post reported last week.

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