News / Middle East

Expert: Jihadists Joining With Syrian Rebels

Henry Ridgwell
LONDON — As fighting continues in Syria between government and opposition forces, there are growing concerns that Islamist fighters, including some foreigners linked to terror groups like al-Qaida, are joining up with the Free Syria Army.  At least one expert says there's ample online and video evidence that the Syrian uprising is being exploited by Jihadist groups.
Free Syria Army fighters on the outskirts of Aleppo earlier this month.  As Western and Gulf powers step up their aid for the Syrian opposition, concerns are growing that Islamist militant groups are infiltrating the conflict.
Shiraz Maher of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, at Kings College, London, specializes in monitoring extremist groups.  He took VOA through some of the videos and websites he'd tracked down online. This one purports to show bombing operations carried out by al Qaida in Syria.
"Certainly groups that are Islamist in orientation, whether they're affiliated with al-Qaida or not, are now operating on the ground there. Videos like this, of course are very difficult to independently verify but we can cross reference them with other things that we're seeing. These videos are now surfacing through known al-Qaida web forums that we've been following for the best part of a decade now," he said. 
Iconography associated with Islamist militant groups is becoming increasingly common in videos purportedly shot in Syria.
"They say it's al-Qaida, it's certainly Islamist fighters within Syria. You can tell that from the flags that they're carrying and also from some of the iconography put onto the video. What they're doing is that they're transporting rugs here and blankets into a rebel-held area. This is typical of the way that Islamist groups in the region operate, in order to win over support from local populations," he said. 
In recent weeks, there have been several reports in the Arab press of foreign fighters going to join the Free Syria Army.  Maher says it is impossible to know for sure the numbers of foreigners among the FSA ranks, but they are certainly present.
"Saudis for example going, Egyptians, Libyans, Jordanians. And of course that would tend to make sense. These are, particularly in the Gulf states, regimes that have expressed opposition to Bashar al Assad.  Many of the clerics in those countries have declared Bashar al Assad an apostate," he said. 
Maher says that extremist groups were slow to react to the Syrian uprising, but in recent months, there are increasing signs that militant Islamist networks are looking to exploit the conflict. 

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: stephan from: France
August 14, 2012 11:00 PM
Oh, are we now going to call them "Jihadists" ?? what happened to Iranian "pilgrims"...??? did you hear about the riots in France?? we call the Islamists there "youths"... - politically correct... we would do anything but look at the Islamic disease in the face... too ugly

by: James from: China
August 14, 2012 10:09 PM
al-Qaida is merely a useful tool to manipulate for western goverments. shouldn't goverment help assad in terms of terrorism?
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 16, 2012 1:25 PM
No Assad is a terrorist, inflicting terror on people of his own kind in fact. Nobody is friends with those who inflict genocide except Russia and China, because they provide the guns.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs