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1 december 2012 Last updated at 10:09 GMT  

Syria: extremism worries grow as war deepens

As more and more foreign fighters join rebels battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s deepening civil war, fears are growing that the opposition is becoming more radical and dependent on extremist elements. 

Early on, rebel groups were mostly made up of military defectors and ordinary Syrians who wanted to see Assad go. But foreign fighters, some of them from radical Islamist groups, have been streaming in recent months. 

Sheikh Abu Ahmed, the leader of a militant group inspired by al-Qaeda made no secret of his desire to see Sharia law installed in Syria after the end of the war

Sheikh Abu Ahmed, regional military commander:

"We want Sharia law to be applied because it's the right path for all humanity. All these constitutional laws couldn't realise the people's happiness, it's the same reason why there were many dictatorships, especially here. Those regimes made the people very tired. The answer to this is for Sharia law to be applied, it's the right path and even if we die for this, we will go to heaven as martyrs.”

Ahmed seemed to indicate that the regime’s persecution of Sunni Muslims has only made them more devout, explaining that he and his men fight because they believe it is God’s will. 

Sheikh Abu Ahmed, regional military commander:

"People like me used to pray in the mosque five times a day, and before the revolution, the Syrian regime considered this as a crime. Because of this we were arrested, captured many times, and tortured by the regime's branches. For this reason we are against the regime from the bottom of our hearts. Since the so-called Arab Spring started, we were the first to join the revolution.”

The growing radical element among rebel fighters has made Western governments such as the United States hesitant to arm opposition groups. But it seems their reluctance to help end the conflict has also emboldened extremists and forced the opposition to turn to them for help in the fight against the Syrian regime. 

Whatever the case, the war has only grown more desperate, with Assad’s forces leveling civilian areas and a death toll that has surpassed an estimated 40,000. 


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