Attempts to divide Syrian rebels into moderates and extremists are “bound to fail," according to a think-tank run by the TonyBlair Faith Foundation. The report, published by the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics on Monday, states that groups form coalitions when they share objectives – regardless of ideology. It cites examples of Islamists and non-Islamists battling Assad and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) together.
The think-tank studied 48 rebel factions in Syria, finding that 33 percent – nearly 100,000 fighters – follow the same ideology as IS. If Islamist groups who want a government run according to Islamic law are taken into account, the number of Islamist extremists within the rebel ranks in Syria increases to 60 percent of major rebel groups.
The report notes that the 16 Salafi-jihadist groups fighting in the Syrian civil war have some 96,000 fighters in their ranks, and that IS accounts for 31,000 of those, according to the latest CIA figures. It goes on to say that if IS is defeated, there are “at least 65,000 fighters belonging to other Salafi-jihadi groups” who are ready to take its place.
“In our study alone, there are 15 Salafi-jihadi groups, many opposed to ISIS, which share the group’s vicious ideology and will benefit from its defeat. Of these, eight have explicitly committed themselves to international jihad, making them highly likely to support attacks on the West,” the report says.