Image 1 of 8: The Haqq Division: they are the lesser-known fighters in Homs but no less fearsome than the more famous Farouq Brigades. Led by a Salafi former paratrooper, the credentials are all there for a Homsian Jihad.
Image 1 of 8: Jabhat al-Nusra – global sensation hopefuls in the terror network charts, these are Qaeda wannabes. New kids on the terrorist block, the 2012 creation has wasted no time clocking up notoriety on Syria's rebel turf, through flashy suicide strikes in Damascus. What it lacks in numbers, upsized by other Jihadis, it makes up for in media columns.
Image 1 of 8: Fatah al-Islam --Fatah al-Islam --While their position then led to the ignoble destruction of Nahr el Bared in 2007,
this Syrian-spawned militia might have finally seen its day, as they sustain losses. Any well-versed Mid East observer will remember their role in hijacking the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el Bared in Tripoli, North Lebanon.
Image 1 of 8: Ahrar al-Sham Brigades --Syria's largest Jihadi contingent of 60 factions, while not the media super stars like Jabhat al Nusra, are an impressive force to reckon with. Units upon city units, since 2011, they have gained ground, particularly in Hama & Aleppo, and fans through their good deeds as well as their traditional guerilla work.
Image 1 of 8: Syria Liberation Front (SLF): more powerful than the FSA, the giant conglomeration is a mix of Salafis and ‘softer Islamists’. With a spokesman in London, they run a slick operation. SLF already has big name kills under their belt like Assad’s brother-in-law.
Image 1 of 8: Commission for Civilian Protection: the Muslim Brotherhood by any other name, this motley crew are more likely to be spotted at an SNC meeting than on the battlefield. In their spare time, they bring in money from abroad to help FSA factions on the ground.
Image 1 of 8: Suleiman Fighting Company: the mafia element of the extremist brigades, these Islamist fighters are more than a little involved in drug smuggling and the criminal underworld. Found everywhere from Hama to Aleppo, you can spot their black flags from miles away.
Image 1 of 8: The Tawhid Division: the friendly face of Aleppo’s militants, the Division was formed out of FSA brigades. Despite the Sharia law imperatives, they claim to support non-Sunni communities in their quest for self-rule.
Two months ago the ramshackle brigades that make up the opposition fighters in Syria were told: ‘join the Syrian National Army (SNA) or disband.’
The disjointed divisions were causing chaos internally and undermining the credibility of a post-Assad government. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, SNA commander-in-chief, Major General Muhammad al-Haj Ali, said; “… the Free Syrian Army (FSA) reached a stage where it could no longer absorb all the opposition elements and brigades within its structure.”
He added that uniting the opposition under one banner would help avoid further bloodshed once Assad was ousted. It didn’t work and the factions remain. Not only are these Sunni groups often extreme in their religious views - the rebel movement is now steeped in religious discourse - some also have ties to criminal activities and recruit from outside Syria. It does not bode well for the future of this already fragmented country.
"Islamization" of the rebel armed bands
Here we walk you through the hardline Islamist armed brigades in a beginner’s guide to the opposition's fanatic factions.
As illuminated by a Foreign Policy report, utlraconservative Salafi-Jihadis in all their stripes may still be just a minority of the rebel movement broadly speaking - but they make a lot of military clamor as comparative lightweights in a heavyweights international arena.
- the poster boys of the rebel movement- do not feature in this field-guide, though some have accused them of being less secular than the outside world would have you believe.
What do you think? Is the Syrian rebel movement turning into a free-for-all Sunni insurgency that is starting to remind us more and more of Al-Qaeda? Have we missed out any extreme Islamic factions that have joined the fray?