MOSCOW, July 12 (RIA Novosti) – Russian and Syrian special services are exchanging data over reports that hundreds of foreign rebels – including Russians and Americans – are fighting in Syria, a Russian foreign ministry official said in a recent interview.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, a presidential envoy to the Middle East, told RIA Novosti earlier this week that Russians are among hundreds of rebels fighting the Syrian government forces in the conflict, which has been going on for more than two years.
He said that Russian and Syrian intelligence services are keeping in touch over the issue of foreign fighters and “exchanging information” on the issue. Bogdanov could not immediately say whether any foreign rebels had been detained.
“There are hundreds of mercenaries, militants from different states, including from European countries and the United States. Russians are formally there too, but [they] are fighting for the rebels of illegal militant groups linked to an underground terrorist resistance movement, and are affiliated with al-Qaida,” Bogdanov said in the interview.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that up to 600 militants from Russia and Europe are fighting together with Syrian rebels against the government there.
Federal Security Service (FSB) head Alexander Bortnikov said in May that about 200 Russian rebels are playing an active role in fighting in Syria.
A recent study by experts at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy together with Flashpoint Global Partners, a terrorism research group, analyzed the national origins of 280 foreign fighters reported killed in Syria between July 2012 and May this year.
According to the report, most foreign fighters participating in the conflict have come from nearby countries as a result of the Arab Spring.
The study found that at least 17 fighters of Russian origin had been killed over that period, including 10 from the Muslim-populated North Caucasus regions.