The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria has formed three armed battalions “for self-defense and to defend the oppressed,” the group’s spokesman said Sunday.

Mulham Al-Droubi told Saudi owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat that the battalions were created three months ago and are deployed across Syria, but “especially in areas with intense fighting.” He said they operated under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, which functions as a regular army but is composed of semi-independent units.

This was the first public acknowledgment of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood taking part in fighting on the ground. The precise number of combatants in the battalions is unknown.

The reports bolster expert opinions that the opposition forces include significant Islamist elements.

Droubi refused to tell the daily who was arming the forces, but noted that Syrians were capable of defending themselves and that no foreign fighters had entered the country.

This was the first public acknowledgment of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood taking part in fighting on the ground

British daily The Telegraph reported Friday that the Muslim Brotherhood “militia” was called “Armed men of the Muslim Brotherhood” and was formed in order to unite dispersed fighters on the ground. Hossam Abu-Habel, the son of a Syrian Muslim Brotherhood member in the 1950s, told the daily that he raises $40,000-$50,000 a month to provide weapons and other aid to Islamist fighters in the Homs region.

The Telegraph reported that a split has occurred between the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which conducts fighting on the ground, and the Syrian National Council (SNC), the political opposition in exile. The FSA has now established a political wing and receives funding from Saudi Arabia, while SNC is funded by Qatar.

An Islamic militiaman fighting in Aleppo told The Telegraph that he would be offended if associated with the Free Syrian Army.

Meanwhile, Brotherhood spokesman Droubi was named by the Free Syrian Army last week as a possible candidate for transitional prime minister following the ouster of Bashar Assad, Arab media reported.

Droubi played down the reports on a supporters’ Facebook page July 27, saying that he was never approached on the matter and learned about it from the internet. He added, however, that if officially offered the position, he would discuss it within his movement’s institutions.