A man walks past a crater that activists said was caused by a bomb dropped by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Al-Maliha town, in the suburbs of Damascus March 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)
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Foreign fighters among the ranks of Syrian insurgents have become increasingly common in the three years since the war began.Those following up on the issue find it difficult to gather information about foreign fighters in Syria, known as "muhajireen," especially as the issue has become sensitive after the presence of foreign fighters in Syria generated firm criticism from the U.S. and Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, which is seeking to discourage its nationals from embracing armed jihad.A Syrian national who transports foreign fighters to the battlefield in his country said that three groups wield influence in northern regions and have significant numbers of foreign fighters. A large number of the foreign fighters who arrived in Syria joined the Nusra Front at first, before switching to ISIS, he recalled. The situation, though, has been in flux after the beginning of the year saw bloody battles that pitted ISIS against other rebel groups, including Nusra, as some foreign fighters sought to join or rejoin Nusra, which was dubbed the only legitimate Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria by the movement's leader, Ayman Zawahri.The European nationals who have gone to Syria comprise about 15 percent of the total number of foreign fighters, he said.
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