George Protopapas
(RIEAS Media Analyst)


The Syria Crisis involves a very dangerous parameter that threats to destabilize the periphery of the Middle East, the radical Islamic groups. They have been complicating the international efforts, especially from USA and Russia, for a settlement on the war between Damascus and Syrian rebels. The radical Islamic groups fight against the regime of authoritarian Syrian president Bashar Assad and have been playing a leading role to the formation of the war’s front.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the US intelligence officials concern that Syria could become a hub of global terrorism such as Afghanistan and Iraq, because the radical Islamic fighters from the Middle East and Europe is infiltrating to Syria for a “holy war” against to “infidels”.  Furthermore many Syrian rebels have expressed concerns for the actions of radical Islamic groups in civil war as they inspired by Al- Qaida ideology and they pursue to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The most notorious radical Islamic group is The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that has an increased number of foreign fighters and it promotes a very strict interpretation of Islamic law of Saria (ban of smoking, women to wear the veil, public executions). The ISIS tries to expand its presence to the Syrian territory and it carries out an aggressive military strategy, including clashes with other Syrian rebels groups. It has expanded its operations to control the Syrian -Turkish borders in order to destroy the already strained relations between Ankara and Damascus.

The ISIS emerges to have cultivated great expectations and ambitions for the Middle East. Its leadership has openly defied Al- Qaida in Syrian territory and also in Iraq. According to the Economist the central leadership of Al –Qaida considers that the violent actions of ISIS are counter- productive in Iraq and Syria for the propaganda of global Islamic terrorism organization.  The other significant radical Islamic groups are the Al- Nursa Front and the Ahrar al Sham that also fight for a “holy war” but they have followed different strategies. On the one side, the Al- Nursa Front has only few thousand fighters and sometimes cooperates with the secular rebels of the Syrian opposition. On the other side the Ahrar al Sham is based on a brigade of 10.000 fighters and it is an adamant supporter of Al- Qaida’s ideology.

The Syrian war has mobilized radical Muslims fighters across the all the world.  According to the British International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) “ between  140 and 600 Europeans have gone to Syria since early 2011, representing 7-11 per cent of the foreign fighters total”. (1)

The radical Islamic groups in Syria complicate the outcome of the war as the Syrian opposition cannot create a unified front on political and military level against Assad. The rising threat of Syrian radical Islamist groups is be considered one of the vital incentives of the American -Russian partnership to find a solution to Syria based on the destruction of chemical weapons of Damascus' regime. The USA fears that Syrian war could spill- over the Islamic fundamentalism on the Middle East, as a result the extremist Islamic fighters to infiltrate in the allied states of the Persian Gulf.

Russia has also concerns for the expansion of the radical Islamic groups in North Caucasus. The threat of the radical Islam is more dangerous from the anti-American policy of the president  Bashar Assad and Washington seems to feel more comfortable with a post- war political settlement that could involve elements of the regime of Damascus. The USA and the international community must adopt a common strategy against on the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism in the world. 

According to American think- tank The Heritage Foundation, Washington   needs a comprehensive integrated strategy to counter the decentralized structure of Al-Qaida and its affiliated Islamic groups. “The United States should establish clear red lines for new Arab governments that detail the requirements for continued U.S. support: cooperation in fighting terrorists, respect for the freedom and human rights of their own citizens, and the fulfillment of international legal commitments…The U.S. should also promote economic freedom, which is an important building block for political freedom in Arab countries.

It must also identify potential sub-state allies that are threatened by Islamist extremism and cooperate with them to contain and defeat al-Qaeda and other terror groups. (2) 

The infiltration of radical Islamic groups in Syria and the instability in post- Gaddafi Libya proves that the Arabic states are not mature to accept the democratic principles of the West or to adopt a kind of democracy. The bloody history and the sectarian fault lines in Arabic world prevent the establishment of the institutions that need a democratic political system.


(1) Aaron Y. Zelin,  ICSR Insight: European Foreign Fighters in Syria, 02/04/2013.

(2) James Phillips “The Arab Spring Descends into Islamist Winter: Implications for U.S. Policy,  The Heritage Foundation, December 20, 2012

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