A Turkish jihadist site recently published a list of what it claims are foreign-backed groups in Syria. While the list includes some of the most widely known groups operating in Syria, such as the Al Nusrah Front, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), it does not include other major ones like al Qaeda in Iraq and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. On the other hand, it includes some smaller groups that have received less attention. The claimed locations of the groups appear to be accurate.
The posting states that there are tens of groups fighting against the Assad regime, with different ideological views and different sources of support, but it does not discuss these sources of support or identify the “foreign backers” of these groups. However, the foreign backers of some of the groups are known. The leadership of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has received shelter in Turkey, though the FSA is now reported to be moving its leadership base to Syria, either to Idlib or Aleppo province. In addition, Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations have set up an international fund to pay salaries to the FSA. Liwa al-Tawhid is is thought to be backed by the FSA. The Al Nusrah Front is backed by al Qaeda.
A translation of the somewhat idiosyncratic list, which includes names, ideological tendencies, and numbers of fighters in the groups, is below (information in brackets is from LWJ):
1. Tawheed Brigades [a.k.a. the al-Tawheed Brigade]: This group, which is active in the Aleppo and Idlib region, subscribes to a view that is similar to al Qaeda’s. High-level officers are not accepted into this group.
2. The Al Nusrah front: This is the Syrian branch of al Qaeda. The Al Nusrah Front shares al Qaeda’s ideology, but calls itself by a different name. The group is active in Aleppo and Idlib, and has been responsible for organizing the attacks on Damascus.
3. Libyans, Chechnyans and Afghans: They are present mostly in Aleppo, and they organize attacks in Idlib, Homs, and Damascus.
4. The Free Syrian Army (FSA): This group includes high-level officers. The FSA fights against Syrian troops in Idlib, Damascus, Homs, Hama, Dar’a, and Aleppo. Its central base is the Antakya Apaydın camp [in Turkey, near the Syrian border]. The group is estimated to have around 20,000 armed members. FSA members subscribe to the Salafist view. Some al Qaeda members are known to have infiltrated this group.
5. The Farouq Brigade [likely referring to the al Farouq Brigade, which is one of the most active battalion units of the Free Syria Army]: This group, which has around 7,000 armed members, is active in the Homs region.
6. Bedouin: These fighters are based in the Dar’a region [in southwest Syria, near the border with Jordan].
7. Military Council: [The group is active in] Deir al-Zour.
8. Al Qaeda Tawheed Brigades: [The group was active in] Deir al-Zour. [The group] is known to have disintegrated now, but it was a small group with no link to another group by a similar name.
9. Open Battalion: These are Salafi Islamists, but not like al Qaeda. They are active in the Aleppo region. The group includes soldiers and civilian opposition members.
10. Dawn of Islam Battalion [possibly the Brigade of Islam, or Liwa al-Islam]: This group is comprised of Salafi Islamists fighting in Aleppo.
11. Free Sham [a.k.a. Ahrar al-Sham or Free Men of Syria]: This group consists of Salafi Islamists active in Aleppo and Damascus. Turkish Osman Karahan was part of this group.
12. The Brigade of Unity [a.k.a. Liwa al-Tawhid, part of the FSA]: This group of about 3,000 fighters is active in Damascus and the surrounding countryside.