Al-Qaeda in Syria Calls for Revenge Attacks Against Russia

A Syrian man holding up portraits of President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Valdimir Putin at a rally near the Russian Embassy in Damascus on Tuesday to support for Moscow's airstrikes. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian man holding up portraits of President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Valdimir Putin at a rally near the Russian Embassy in Damascus on Tuesday to support for Moscow’s airstrikes. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria has called on followers to carry out attacks in Russia following Moscow’s airstrikes in the country, raising the specter of blowback on Russian soil for its military intervention to aid Syria’s embattled government.

Just hours after the call from Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, two mortars landed in the perimeter of the Russian Embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus.

No one was reported injured, but it underscored the rising anger at Russia among rebel factions and others for its military backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia has used cruise missiles and fighter jets to strike targets in Syria held by Islamic State militants and other factions battling Assad including Nusra and U.S.-backed rebel forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has argued that containing the extremists is a national security concern for Russia, with thousands of militants draw from Russia’s restive North Caucasus. Russia also has deep stakes in Assad’s regime, which gives Russia key military footholds in the Middle East and Mediterranean.

“The new Russian invasion is the last arrow in the quiver of the enemies of the Muslims,” Jolani said in an audio recording released late Monday. He urged those in the Caucasus to “distract” from the conflict in Syria, calling for attacks on both civilian and military targets.

“If the Russian soldier kills from the masses of [Syria], kill from their masses,” he said. “And if they kill from our soldiers, kill from theirs. One for one.”

In the 21-minute speech, he also set bounties for the killing of Assad, and Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is backing the Syrian government on the battlefield.

Jolani said a bounty of 3 million euros ($3.4 million) would be paid for Assad’s death.

“Should this ruler not be killed?” he said. “The poison is in the head of the snake.”

For Nasrallah he set the bounty at 2 million euros ($2.3million).

The shells that landed near the Russian Embassy in Damascus on Tuesday came as a group of supporters carried out a rally in solidarity with the Russian airstrikes. The Russian Embassy in Damascus said no one was injured in the attack, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the attacks on the embassy as an “obvious act of terror.” One mortar landed on a residential building, and another in a sports ground, he said.

Natasha Abbakumova in Moscow contributed to this report.

SOURCE: Loveday Morris 
The Washington Post