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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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May 31st, 2013
06:12 PM ET

Who are the Syrian rebels?

The family of Nicole Lynn Mansfield has confirmed from photos they have seen that she is one of three Westerners reportedly killed in Syria.

Her death is difficult and confusing for her family, who says it had no idea she was there, although her father said he had concerns.

"I went to the FBI with my concerns three years ago, her passport needed to be revoked. It's crazy around here," said Gregory Mansfield.

"I know that she was talking to people online and that they told her about the project in Syria. And that she was interested in going over there to help. And she didn't think it would be fighting, she told me there wouldn't be no guns or anything she would never be involved in that. And they lied to her. They misled her and took her over there and probably paid for her ticket and everything and they kept her there," said daughter Triana Jones.

Syrian state-run television said the three Westerners were fighting alongside rebels and were found with weapons.

A State Department official told CNN that the agency is aware of the reports and is trying to get more information on Mansfield and what happened.

The incident highlights complications when talking about the Syrian rebels - few know who they are, whether they share the same motives, and whether the U.S. can trust them.

"Many of the fighters actually fight on a very local level, like Minutemen during the American Revolution," said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and author of "In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria."

"It's extremely complicated to deal with them because there are so many voices among the opposition," said Tabler.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, traveled to Syria earlier this week and met with rebels. Specifically, McCain met with Gen. Salem Idris, the head of the Supreme Military Council.

That council is "sort of an association of a number of those in the opposition that have been vetted by the United States and Arab intelligence agencies, and it's that body that's been used to funnel assistance, in some cases weapons from other countries, into Syria to support the rebels," said Tabler.

But even within the Supreme Military Council it is complicated.

Some of them are nationalists, some are Salifists, who are on the right end of the spectrum, said Tabler. Sometimes weapons supplied via the Salifist units end up in the hands of extremists in the al-Nusra front.

Al-Nusra is considered to be a front group, an alias for al Qaeda in Iraq. As of December, the United States considers al-Nusra to be a terrorist organization.

"It's a rising force among the Syrian Sunni-Arab opposition, and it's a real worry for Washington, and it makes arming the rebels much more complicated," said Tabler.

There are terrorist groups present in each of the different areas in Syria - regime-controlled areas, Sunni-Arab controlled areas, and Kurdish areas.

"They're actually ascendant. Hezbollah in the regime-controlled areas; the al Nusra front in the Sunni-Arab controlled areas; and then the local branch, the Kurdistan Workers' Party out of the Kurdish areas," said Tabler.

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