Sunday, June 9, 2013

Analysts: Foreign militant Islamists streaming into Syria

    Sunday, June 09, 2013   No comments

Foreign Islamist extremists are streaming into Syria, apparently in response to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah’s more visible backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a development that analysts say is likely to lead to a major power struggle between foreign jihadists and Syrian rebels should the regime collapse.

Researchers who monitor the conflict said this week that they’ve detected the influx of foreigners in firsthand observations on the battlefield, spotting them in rebel videos posted on the Internet, observing a recent spike in reported deaths of foreign fighters and studying their postings on social media sites.

And while many foreign fighters have been absorbed into established Syrian rebel groups, there are signs now that an increasing number are remaining in free-standing units that operate independently and are willing to clash with other rebels and Syrian communities to implement their own rigid vision of Islamist governance.

“The numbers are increasing, with more radical groups inside now,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar.

Elizabeth O’Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who just returned from a two-week research trip to study rebels inside Syria, said that “without a doubt” she saw far more foreign fighters than on her previous trip two months ago, including foreigner-only fighting groups in northern Idlib province, near the border with Turkey.

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