Based on my notes. There are no moderate rebels. The Free Syrian Army are no more than 10% of the rebels and I don’t think that most Syrians like them all that much. As far as I can tell, all FSA fronts are now under the control of Al Nusra, or Al Qaeda. The rebels are pretty much Al Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham and ISIS and other jihadists of similar ilk, and really there is not much else. Everyone else who are not radical jihadists are working alongside of them or under their command. Even pro-rebel commentators like Charles Lister state that the vast majority of Syrian rebel groups have been working closely with Al Qaeda since 2012. Even at the start of the civil war when protests were mainly peaceful, Christians were soon targeted. In Idlib, Christian women were ordered to wear the hijab and to stop wearing jeans. There were sporadic assassinations of local Christian businessmen.
9th Brigade, Ninth Brigade – Part of Jaysh al-Tahrir. Allied with Al-Nusra.
30th Division – FSA group mostly destroyed by Al-Nusra. Supported by US.
101st Division – FSA group operating in Idlib around Atma. Under attack by Al-Nusra.
Ahfad Omar Brigade – FSA group in Deraa. Under attack by Nusra.
Ahrar al-Sham – Jihadists founded by Islamists released from Assad’s prisons who hailed from the Ghab Plains. Their main champion was Qatar, they are more radical than Nusra and maintain limited operational ties with ISIS. Qatar has recently backed off of its support for this group due to pressure from the US. This group is basically Al Qaeda. They are very close to Al-Nusra and some are now defecting to Nusra. Turkey is now boosting them more than Al Qaeda – this is Turkey’s favorite group in the conflict now. This is now the second largest rebel force in Syria after ISIS. Part of the Southern Front. Their religious leader is Abdallah al-Muhaysini, who has strong ties with Al Qaeda.
Like Nusra, they are currently undergoing a re-branding designed to supposedly lessen their extremism and make them more palatable to the West. Whether this change of tune is genuine or not is uncertain but dubious. The softened stance is promoted by the political wing and is based more on pragmatism than anything else. The military and spiritual wings still espouse salafi-jihadism. Political line is strongly influenced by Abdulaziz al-Tareifi, a salafi scholar in Saudi Arabia.
Ajnad Sham – Islamists, Under Nusra command. Form the Jund al-Malahim alliance with Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.
Al-Farooq Brigades – Work with Al Nusra.
Al-Fateh Brigade – One of the oldest FSA groups, joined Ahrar al-Sham in Nov. 2015.
Al-Hamza Division – Takfiri jihadis operating in Deraa around Sheikh Sa’ad. Pronounces takfir on other rebels. Part of the Southern Front.
Al-Sanadid – Part of Democratic Forces of Syria.
Al-Wasta Division – Part of the FSA.
Alwiyat al-Furqan (Al-Furqan Brigades) – Jihadists. Islamist group active in Quneitra. It is headed by Majid al-Khatib, one of the youngest leaders of rebel war.
Army of the North – New group operating around Aleppo formed in February 2016. Made up of Division 13, Suqour al Jabal, Northern Division and Jaysh al Nasr. Armed by the CIA. Allied with Ahrar al-Sham.
Brigades of the Angel of Death – Involved in fighting ISIS around Deir az-Zour.
Burkan al-Furat (Euphrates Volcano) – A coalition of groups in Raqqa led by the YPG. The Arab groups are mostly Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa and Kata’ib Shams al-Shamal along with some other groups. This group mostly focuses on fighting ISIS and taking territory from them.
Dawn of Freedom Brigades – Operates in Raqqa. Kata’ib Shams al-Shamal is part of this grouping.
Fajr al-Islam – Aleppo based. Both founders were killed in 2014. Closely associated with Ahrar al-Sham. Jihadis.
Fajr al-Sham – Operates SE of Aleppo around Khanasser. Allied with ISIS.
Fath Army – Coalition fighting in Fall 2015 in the Ghab Plains. Ahrar al-Sham is one of the principal factions of this group.
Faylaq al-Rahman (Legions of al Rahhman) – Jihadists. Active in Ghouta and the Qalamoun area. Working with the Army of Islam. Its name is derived from one of the 99 names of God in Islamic tradition. Several TOW missiles delivered to this group by the US ended up in the hands of DAESH. Its heavily Islamist logo helps explain why.
Faylaq al-Sham (Legions of the Levant) – Supposedly relative moderates, but they are under Nusra command.
First Battalion, First Regiment – FSA faction. Leader resigned in Fall 2015 after the group took heavy losses.
First Legion – Part of the Southern Front in Deraa. Under attack by ISIS.
Forqat 13 (13th Division) – FSA group operating around Abtin near Aleppo. Fights alongside Ahrar Al-Sham and the Army of Mujaheddin. Currently fighting against ISIS. Now part of the Army of the North.
Forqat 46 (46th Division) – Part of Jaysh al-Tahrir. Armed by the CIA. Allied with Al-Nusra.
Forqat 312 (312th Division) – Part of Jaysh al-Tahrir. Allied with Al-Nusra.
Forqat al-Awwal As-Sahli (First Coastal Division) – Jihadists. Active in the eastern part of the region of Idlib in the north of the region of Latakia and Hama in the region. Past member of the “Brigades of Descendants of the Prophet”. Formally a branch of the Free Syrian Army, under Nusra command.
Forqat Fajr al-Islam – Jihadists. Active Group in the Daraa region. It is led by Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Hassan Salama.
Forqat Fajr al-Tawhid – Jihadists active in southern Syria. Includes several rebel groups including the “Brigade of the Banner of Islam.”
Forqat Salah al-Din (Saladdin Division) – Jihadists. Named after the great adversary of the Crusaders.
Free Syrian Army – First of all, the FSA does not even exist. It existed in some form until 2012 when it disbanded. There is no leadership structure or chain of command. Nevertheless, a number of the groups that were formerly a part of the FSA continue to exist and give themselves the FSA moniker. Most of these units, which are mostly in Homs, Aleppo and Southern Syria, are under the control of Turkish intelligence.
Really the FSA is nothing more than a brand name and nothing else. Not moderates. Are known to have beheaded captured regime soldiers since 2012. They continue to behead regime soldiers to this day – recently an SAA colonel was beheaded in Kfar Nabudah. Also many of the biggest massacres of regime civilians were done by the FSA.
Fursan al-Haqq Brigade – FSA group operating in Idlib near Jabal al-Zawiya. Currently under heavy attack by the SAA.
Haqq al-Muqatila Front – FSA front mostly destroyed by Al-Nusra attacks. Has bases in Turkey.
Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya, Al-Muthana – Jihadists mostly operating in Deraa around Sheikh Sa’ad. Has engaged in attacks on Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk in Deraa. Works with Al-Nusra. Part of the Southern Front. This group has recently gone over to ISIS and is fighting alongside ISIS.
Harakat al-Nour al-Din Zenki – Jihadists. Named after a sultan of the region, a contemporary of Saladin and another great fighter against the Crusaders. One of the most powerful rebel groups in the region of Aleppo. In the past it was a member of the Islamist “Al Tawhid Brigade” and the “Army of Holy Warriors” and collaborated with “Islamic Front of Aleppo”. Supported by Saudi Arabia.
Hazzm Movement – FSA group that joined Jaysh al-Thuwar and now fights alongside the YPG.
Horreya Brigade – Part of Thawar al-Suriya in Deraa. Mostly destroyed by Nusra attacks.
Imam Bukhari Jamaat – Uzbek jihadists who have pledged allegiance to a Taliban commander. Currently fighting in the Al Ghab Plain.
Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE) – Chechen jihadists based in the Caucasus. Some of them are fighting in Syria.
Islamic Front, Army of Islam, Jaish al-Islam – Radical Islamists. Ahrar al-Sham is a major part of the Islamic Front. They have threatened to kill all of the Alawites and Shia in Syria. Now being heavily supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In the south they are receiving huge supp;lies of heavy weapons from the Military Operations Command (MOC).
Islamic State (Islamic State in the Levant, Islamic State in Syria, ISIL, ISIS) – The most radical takfiri group in Syria. Controls a large part of Raqqa, Deir al-Zour and Aleppo. Fights with most other rebel groups. Both a Western coalition and the Russia/Hezbollah/Shia brigades and the SAA all fight against this group. Jaysh al-Khilafa Division is part of ISIS.
Jabhat al-Akrad – FSA group that joined Jaysh al-Thuwar. Now fights alongside the YPG.
Jabhat al-Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam Front): Jihadists. Islamist brigade active in Quneitra and Daraa. This is the most radical Islamist group has been voluntarily equipped by the USA with TOW missiles; this group is also a member of the Council of Syrian Revolutionary Command.
Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al Nusra Front) – Formerly part of FSA – split away. This unit is filled with Saudi mercenaries and there are also a number of Saudi special forces operating in it. Also operates in Turkey. Abdallah al-Muhaysini is their spiritual leader. Al Nusra was involved in mass executions of captured Syrian soldiers at Abu al-Dhuhur Air Base.
Jabhat al-Sham (Levant Front) – Active in Hama. Not to be confused with the much larger Jabhat al-Shamiya.
Jabhat al-Shamiya, Jabhat al-Shamiayyah, Jabhat al-Sham (Levant Front) – FSA rebel coalition supported by the CIA operating in Northeast Aleppo around Azaz. Controls the city along with al-Nusra. Was formerly under attack by Nusra; is now allied with them. Tajammu’ Suqoor al-Ghab is a member. Jaysh al Thuwar (remnants of Jaysh al Mujahideen) has now joined this group. Now a member of Jaysh al-Tahrir. At war with ISIS. Attacked by ISIS for not adhering to sharia and establishing ties with the West.
Jabhat Al-Thawar Suriya (Thawar Suriya Front) – FSA group operating in Deraa. Mostly destroyed by Nusra attacks, a few remain.
Jarabulus Brigade – FSA group with the goal of liberating Jarabulus from ISIS.
Jaysh al-Mujahideen, Jaysh al-Mujahideen wal Ansar, Jaysh al-Muhajiroun wal Ansar or JMWA (Army of Holy Warriors, Army of the Companions of the Prophet) – Jihadists. Coalition of Islamist groups in Aleppo area. Recently joined Al Nusra. Other remnants joined Jaysh al-Sham. 2,000 fighters. The group is composed of diverse nationalities. The Chechen rebel news agency Kavkaz Center says they are mujaheddin from the Caucasus Emirate, Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea and other CIS countries. Many veterans from other conflicts. Syrian rebels refer to them as “Turkish brothers.” One JMA battalion was composed of jihadists from western countries, including the US, the UK and Germany. Receives arms and training from the CIA.
Jaysh al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) – Al Qaeda led coalition. Saudi Arabia and Turkey focusing their efforts on support for this group in 2015. The two groups that form the core of this group are Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. Abdallah al-Muhaysini, radical jihadist with close ties to Al Qaeda, is the General Judge or spiritual leader of this group. Apparently wants an Islamic state.
This group is described as openly sectarian. It kidnaps priests and throws Christians out of their homes. After the capture of Idlib, the group executed two Christians for selling alcohol, and then would not let them be buried. Syrian Christians regard this group as the enemy. In Idlib, Christians were taken before the group’s emir who carried a large sword, who said they were infidels and ordered them to convert or die. When the group conquered Idlib, when they first entered town, people were shocked. There were so many foreign fighters among them and they also had a number of child fighters. People were stunned. They had lists of government supporters to be killed. They searched these people out and executed them. When 90% of Idlib’s population left, the group looted the homes of those who left.
Juan Cole describes this group as radical salafis who are spearheaded by Al Nusra.
Jaysh al-Jihad (Army of Jihad) – Operates in Quneitra. Now part of ISIS. Probably the same thing as Saraya al-Jihad.
Jaysh al-Khilafa Division (Army of the Caliphate) – A special force of ISIS that has been set up to defend Raqqa.
Jaysh al-Nasr – Grouping of FSA fronts in Homs. Now part of the Northern Front. Armed by the CIA.
Jaysh Al-Sham (Army of the Levant) – An offshoot of Ahrar al-Sham. Supposedly this is a more moderate faction that left Ahrar. Operates between Azaz and Jarabulus. Mohammed Ayman Aboul-Tout, alias Aboul-Abbas al-Shami is the brains behind this group. A former member of the Fighting Vanguard, an Islamist group that fought Assad’s father in 1979-1982 and based its philosophy of Sayyid Qutb (Al Qaedism or takfirism). This shows that the brains behind this group is an ultra-radical Salafist.
Jaysh Al-Tahrir (Liberation Army) – Formed February 2016. Made up of Jabhat al-Sham, Saraya al-Haq Unit 314, the Ninth Brigade, Forqat 46 and Forqat 312.
Jaysh al-Tawhid (Army of Tawhid) – Islamists, probably jihadists. – Part of Free Syrian Army trained by CIA. In Al-Lataminah. Based on the name, they are surely jihadists. Former members of jihadists Islamic Front.
Jaysh Al-Thuwar (Revolutionary Army) – Formed from seven FSA groups – Jabhat al-Akrad, Hazzm Movement, Syria Revolutionaries Front, the Northern Sun Battalion and three smaller groups – all from different areas. Ideology unknown. Fighting against ISIS and Al Qaeda currently. Now fighting alongside the Kurdish YPG with Russian air support. Later joined the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Jihad in the Path of God Brigade – Part of Euphrates Volcano. Fighting to liberate areas from ISIS.
Jund al-Aqsa – Al Qaeda front. This is an extremely radical split from Nusra. They are huge in Idlib Province and also operate in SE Aleppo Province. They have been described as psychopathic ISIS sympathizers. They were members of Jaysh al-Fatah, but they left in protest over the group’s decision to fight ISIS.
Jund al-Malahim: Islamists. Alliance between Ahrar al-Sham, Nusra and Ajnad al-Sham.
Jund al-Sham – Led by a Chechen, cooperates with Nusra foreign fighter branches.
Kata’ib Shams al-Shamal – Part of the Dawn of Freedom Brigades. One of the main factions making up the Arab part of Euphrates Volcano. The membership of Liwa al-Tawheed has mostly joined this group. They mostly fight ISIS. Their goal is to recapture Jarabulus and Manjib in Raqqa.
Katiba al-Risala – Part of the Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade, operates in he village of al-Sheikh Hassan in the north Raqqa countryside.
Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) – Uzbek Al Qaeda branch, Aleppo and Idlib Provinces.
Katiba Suqur al-Jazira – Raqaa Revolutionaries Brigade branch operating in the countryside of West Raqaa.
Katiba Usud al-Tawheed – Raqaa Revolutionaries Brigade faction operating in the city of Raqaa.
Liwa al-Adiyat – Claimed responsibility for the stabbing of a SAA general and pilot behind enemy lines.
Liwa Ahfad al-Rasul – Part of the Raqaa Liberation Front. US-backed, went into serious decline in 2013, later evicted from Raqaa by ISIS. Has worked with ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, and Liwa al-Muntasir bi-Allah. Fights in Raqaa and also in Latakia around al-Qardaha where they fought alongside ISIS.
Liwa al-Fatah – Formerly associated with the Shami Front, now part of Ahrar al-Sham.
Liwa al-Fursan al-Haq – Allied with Nusra. Part of the FSA Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade.
Liwa al-Islam – Works closely with Saudi Arabia. Thought to be behind the chemical attack in Ghouta.
Liwa ‘al-Jabal Suqour, Suqour al-Jabal, Sukur al-Jabal (Falcons of the Mountain Brigade) – Active in Idlib and Aleppo. Created and funded by Qatar. Formerly involved with the “Brigades of Descendants of the Prophet.” Jihadists, but part of the FSA. Now part of the Army of the North. Armed by the CIA.
Liwa al-Jihad fi Sabil Allah – In Raqaa. Fights ISIS, headquartered in Kobani. Aligned with Syrian exiles.
Liwa ‘al-Moataz Billah (Moataz Billah Brigade) – Jihadists. This was one of the first groups of the Free Syrian Army trained in Daraa. It participated in the coalition of rebel groups called “Southern Front” and also collaborated with the rebel coalition called Gharfat Amaliyat Usood al-Harb. In May 2015, his boss was still Col. Khalid al-Nabulsi. Initially armed by the USA, it seems that they have reviewed their position as this former client has now been bombed by US and coalition war planes.
Liwa al-Muntasir bi-Allah – Part of the Raqaa Liberation Front and the Revolutionary Military Council in Raqaa. Has fought with ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, and Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa.
Liwa al-Nasir Salah al-Din – Operates in Raqaa. Involved in a dispute with Ahrar al-Sham where they arrested each others’ members. Part of the group has joined ISIS.
Liwa Al-Sultan (Al-Sultan Brigade) – FSA brigade operating in Abteen in the Aleppo suburbs.
Liwa Al-Sultan Al-Murad, Furqa Al-Sultan Murad, Liwa ‘Sultan Murad, Sultan Murat Tugayı (Sultan Murad Brigades, Al Murad Sultan Brigades) – FSA faction operating in the southern countryside of Aleppo. Made up of fighters from Turkmenistan. This group has close relations with the Turkish security services and receives arms and training from the CIA. Turkish officers participate in their attacks. Supposedly jihadists. Carries out attacks against Jaysh al-Thuwar (FSA groups fighting alongside the YPG with Russian air support) for being “atheists and allying with the Kurds. Known to execute POW’s.
Liwa al-Tawheed (Tawhid Brigade) – Apparently different from Liwa ‘al-Tawhid Junou. This group operates in north-eastern Aleppo province around Manbij. This group has mostly joined Kata’ib Shams al-Shamal in Raqqa.
Liwa ‘al-Tawhid Junou (Tawhid Brigade of the South) – Jihadists. Created in the Daraa region. Its name comes from the concept of the oneness of God (tawhid) of the Islamic tradition.
Liwa Amana’ al-Raqqa – Nationalist brigade that helped conquer Raqaa. Subsequently members were arrested by ISIS.
Liwa Ansar al-Sunna (Ansar al-Sunna Brigade) – Jaysh al-Sham faction operating north and east of Aleppo around the towns of Retyan and Jam’iyat Zahra.
Liwa Isar al-Shamal – Part of the Raqaa Liberation Front and the Revolutionary Military Council.
Liwa Rayat al-Nasr – Former Raqaa Liberation Front group in Raqaa, now part of Ahrar al-Sham jihadis.
Liwa Martyr Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi (Martyr Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi Brigade) – Jaysh al-Sham faction in Kafran Boudeh. Al-Hamawi was Ahrar al-Sham’s first leader.
Liwa Shuhada al-Islam (Martyrs of Islam Brigade) – Jihadists in Daraya.
Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk (Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade) – Jihadists operating mostly in Deraa around Sheikh Sa’ad, Shaykh al-Maskin, Atman, Kharbat Ghazala, Nawa and Tel al-Jumu’. Formerly an FSA group which worked with Al-Nusra. Former member of the Southern Front. Supported by Saudi Arabia and the US. This entire unit has pledged allegiance to the ISIS, taking with them the US missiles that had been generously given to them. Pronounces takfir on other rebels – takfiris.
Liwa Sukur Al Ahab (Sukur Al Ahab Brigades) – In the Qalamoun Mountains. Under Al Nusra command.
Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa (Raqqa Revolutionaries’ Brigade) – FSA group with the goal of liberating Raqqa from ISIS, but mostly focuses on fighting the SAA. Has sleeper cells and informants inside Raqqa. Includes Kata’ib al-Jihad fi Sabil Allah, Al-Nasir Salah al-Din, Al-Haq, Shuhada’ al-Raqqa, Saraya al-Furat, Katiba al-Risala, Katiba Suqur al-Jazira, Katiba Usud al-Tawheed and Ahrar al-Furat. Part of Raqaa Liberation Front and Revolutionary Military Council.
Has worked with ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa Ahfad al-Rasul and Liwa al-Muntasir bi-Allah. Put an ISIS flag on one of its videos. Uses ISIS-type language in its broadcasts. Pledged allegiance to Al-Nusra in September 2013 but then broke away from them 7 months later. Presently allied with the YPG and operating out of Kobani. As of October 2015, the mainly recruit from Arab tribes in northern Raqaa. They control the area from Ain Issa south to Tel Abyad. Has a big presence in Turkey. Despite all of their alliances with Islamists, they still say that they want a civil democratic state.
Northern Division – Operate around Aleppo. Receives arms and training from the CIA. Now part of the Army of the North.
Northern Sun Battalion – FSA group that joined Jaysh al-Thuwar and now fights alongside the YPG.
Omar al-Mukhtar Battalion – Yarmouk Martyr’s Brigade faction operating in Nawa, Deraa Province.
Quwat al-Qawqaz – Operates around Khanasser in SE Aleppo Province. Allied with ISIS.
Raqaa Liberation Front – Coalition of rebels in Raqaa. Consists of Raqaa Revolutionaries Brigade, Ahfad al-Rasul, Liwa al-Muntasir bi-Allah, Liwa Isar al-Shamal, Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, and Liwa Rayat al-Nasr.
Revolutionary Military Council – Coalition of nationalist groups in Raqaa.
Revolution Leadership Council, Southern Region – Coalition of 50 southern factions in Deraa. Mostly nationalists.
Saraya al-Haq Unit 314 (Saraya al-Haq Division 314) – Part of Jaysh al-Tahrir. Allied with Al-Nusra.
Saraya al-Jihad – Jihadists in Quneitra. Work with Al-Nusra.
Southern Front Coalition – Possibly an FSA group in southern Syria near the Israeli border, under Nusra command. However, in reality this is not part of the FSA at all and instead it is a grouping of tribal fighters from around the Jordan/Syria border area who simply fight to defend their own region. 700 of them recently surrendered to the SAA in Daraa. Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk was a former member.
Syrian Revolutionaries Front – Operates in Deraa around Sheikh Sa’ad. Attacks other rebel groups and pronounces takfir on them. Takfiri jihadis. However, more moderate members of this group split off to form an FSA group that joined Jaysh al-Thuwar which fights alongside the Kurds
Tahrir al-Sham – FSA group linked to Al Qaeda. Cooperates closely with Al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham
Tajammu al-Aaza or Tajammu al-Izza – CIA trained. Ideology unknown. In Talbiseh and Kafr Taboudeh. May be beheaders.
Tajammu Alwiyat al-Omari (Brigades al Omari) – Jihadists. Its name comes from the mosque of the same name in Daraa (where it is active) which was an important symbol for the opposition in the first days of major events in 2011. This group was founded and is funded by Saudi Arabia. Its first leader, former Captain Qais al-Qahtaneh, was murdered by another rebel for personal reasons – this demonstrates once again the sense of democratic debate among these groups!
Tajamu Soqour al-Ghab – FSA faction near Homs in north and northwest Homs Province. Armed by the CIA. Under attack by Al Nusra. Has bases in Turkey. Currently under heavy SAA attack in north and northwest Homs Province. Now part of Jabhat al-Shamiya.
Turkistan Islamic Party – Uighur Al Qaeda faction. Works closely with Al-Nusra and in fact has now been co-opted by Nusra. Also works with ISIS. Fights around Khanasser in SE Aleppo.