Report: Jihadists, extremists make up half of Syrian rebels
Over half the forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad are hardline Islamists, a UK study said Monday. Here, rebels shoot at army positions on the outskirts of Aleppo. (AFP/File)
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Jihadists and radical Islamist groups comprise almost half of forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to a recent British defence study released Monday.
The analysis by defence consultancy IHS Jane's, which was published in UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph on Monday and is due to be released in full later this week, put the number of rebel forces at some 100,000, the Telegraph reported.
Among the total are around 10,000 jihadists, according to the report's estimates. These jihadists include foreign fighters and those who are fighting "for powerful factions linked to Al Qaeda".
Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share a similar outlook to the jihadists, the report added, but are solely focused on the Syrian conflict, rather than a wider regional or international struggle.
The report added that there are at least a further 30,000 moderates that belong to groups with "an Islamic character", meaning only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or nationalist groups.
"The insurgency is now dominated by groups which have at least an Islamist viewpoint on the conflict," Charles Lister, author of the analysis, told the British newspaper, Agence France Presse reported.
"The idea that it is mostly secular groups leading the opposition is just not borne out."
"If the West looks as though it is not interested in removing Assad, moderate Islamists are also likely to be pushed further towards extremists," he warned, according to AFP.
The study is based on interviews with militants and on intelligence estimates.