Syria - Non-State armed groups
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Non-state actors

Non-state armed groups

2011-12 violence
  • Militias supporting the Government

According to the Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1, 23 November 2011), the approximately 300,000-strong Syrian army and the country’s wide spanning state security apparatus are further complemented by a militia force. The latter includes the Shabbiha, composed of an estimated 10,000 civilians armed by the Government and widely used, alongside national security forces, to quash protests. Another militia, associated with the Baath party, is the People’s Army, comprising an estimated 100,000 reservists "designed to provide additional security and protection in cities in times of war". (para. 20)

The Report further indicated there was evidence that the Syrian military, security forces and Shabbiba militias "had planned and conducted joint operations with "shoot to kill" orders to crush demonstrations." (para. 42)

Further reading: Ahed Al Hendi, "The Structure of Syria's Repression: Will the Army Break With the Regime?", Foreign Affairs, 3 May 2011, Nayla Razzouk and Caroline Alexander, "Syrian Thugs Are Assad’s Tool in Protest Crackdown, Groups Say", Bloomberg, 1 June 2011, "Syria unrest: Who are the shabiha?", BBC News, 17 August 2011.

  • Opposition groups

The main armed opposition group during the 2011-12 clashes is the Free Syrian Army, composed mainly of army defectors and led by Col. Riad Assad.  In its November 2011 report, the UN international commission of inquiry had found itself “unable to confirm the level of organization of such armed groups as the Free Syrian Army” (para. 99), though they had claimed responsibility for violent attacks against government forces (para. 29, 39).  The Syrian opposition has since become more unified, with the Free Syrian Army agreeing to coordinate its efforts with the nonviolence-advocating Syrian National Council in December 2011. By March 2011, the Free Syrian Army claimed its numbers had increased to 70,000 (reports in mid-October had listed their forces at more than 15,000). The opposition group has also been accused by the UN of recruiting child soldiers.

Further reading: Salam Hafez, "Syria: How far has uprising spread?", Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 25 October 2011, "Q&A: The Free Syrian Army", BBC News, 16 November 2011, Jeffrey White, "Asad's Armed Opposition: The Free Syrian Army", PolicyWatch #1878, 30 November 2011, Justin Vela, "On the Front Line with Syria's Free Army", Foreign Policy, 8 December 2011.


According to Jane's Sentinel Country Risk Assessment, group names used in connection to the Islamist opposition movement in Syria include the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikwan al-Muslimin), the Fighting Vanguard (Al-Talia al-Muqatalia), the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islamiyya), the Islamic Liberation Movement (Harakat al-Tahrir al-Islamiyya), Muhammad's Youth (Shabab Muhammad), God's Soldiers (Jund Allah) and more recently, Al-Qaeda.

The group was formed in 2002, by breaking away from the Usbat al-Ansar, a militant group among Palestinians in Lebanon. Despite its name, it is unclear whether the group has ties to Syria.

 Last updated: 28 March 2012

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