Foreign Sunni jihadists, including a few from Pakistan, are fighting alongside Syrian rebels who have taken on President Bashar al-Assad, but their numbers are hard to assess and almost certainly small, insurgents and analysts say.
An AFP correspondent who met several Syrian rebels over a week in the city of Homs, which was recaptured by regime forces on Thursday, said he sometimes saw them mingling with strangers of the same beliefs.
“Five Libyans fought with us in Homs. They were all killed,” said a leader of a group from the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), which clashed with regime forces in Homs.
However, while denying that there are many foreigners battling Syrian forces, he said “there are a few, of different nationalities. But we are mostly Syrians.” While the numbers are difficult to pin down, one international expert said that, in a violence-wracked country, the possibility of foreign fighters participating in a rebellion always exist.
“In a country where chaos sets in, it goes without saying that space is created for foreign volunteers" but their role "will remain paltry unless the Syrian fighters see value in their presence,” said Peter Harling, from the International Crisis Group.
In mid-February, an observer with the Arab League in Homs told AFP that "many foreign fighters," including Pakistanis, Afghans, Lebanese, Iraqis, Sudanese, Libyans and Yemenis led most of the fighting and "dominated everybody."
Harling dismissed that as fantasy.