Who Are the Rebels in Syria?

The term "Syrian rebel" refers to any number of groups operating within Syria with the ultimate goal of taking down the dictatorial regime of President Bashar al-Assad, as of 2014. There is also a faction of Sunni Islamists who want to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state.

In the summer of 2011, army defectors organized an armed rebellion against al-Assad. These rebels became known as the Free Syrian Army and consisted of thousands of volunteers, all with their own reasons for opposing Assad’s dictatorship. The FSA has since split into numerous factions. According to the BBC, as of December 2013, there were as many as 1,000 armed opposition groups in Syria consisting of an estimated 100,000 fighters. Syrian rebels are backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey; however, their lack of organization and the Islamist element make Western governments nervous about pledging support.

While the rebellion is mostly led by the Sunni Arab majority, foreign fighters have crossed the border and joined rebel units. The two main rebel groups are the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syria Army and the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front. Independent offshoots include the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigades, Asala wa al-Tanmiya Front and the Durou al-Thawra Commission, among others. Hardline jihadist groups include the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS.