By Mary Chastain
The leader of al-Qaeda linked group al-Nusra Front is encouraging jihadists in the Caucasus to attack Russia. His call follows similar condemnation of Russia from rival jihadi group the Islamic State (ISIS) and a number of Saudi clerics.
“If the Russian army kills the people of Syria, then kill their people. And if they kill our soldiers, then kill their soldiers. An eye for an eye,” declared Abu Mohamed al-Jolani.
Russia began airstrikes on September 30. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the UN Security Council the government received a request from Assad to strike the rebels. Russia has stated they are only targeting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), but insiders claim the airstrikes have hit any faction considered an enemy of Assad.
Jolani said these attacks are “a new Christian crusade from the east that was doomed to fail.”
“The war in Syria will make the Russians forget the horrors that they found in Afghanistan,” continued Jolani. “They will be shattered, with God’s permission, on Syria’s doorstep.”
He promised to pay “three million euros ($3.4 million) for anyone who can kill Bashar al-Assad and end his story.” He would also compensate anyone who killed a member of Assad’s family.
“How long must Muslims delay their rights and shed their blood for a man who loves power?” he asked.
Jolani then placed a $2.2 million bounty on Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, and his family.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Saudi Arabia Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday. Salman predicted that Russia’s airstrikes “would escalate the war and inspire militants from around the world to go there to fight.” A number of Saudi clerics have encouraged Sunni jihadists to fight against Russia, in a call similar to that of Al Qaeda.
Also today, the Islamic State officially vowed to wage holy war on Russia. “Islamic youth everywhere, ignite jihad against the Russians and the Americans in their crusaders’ war against Muslims,” reportedly said Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani in an audio recording released Tuesday.
Outside of the Middle East, Russian citizens are the largest presence in ISIS forces, as well as a number of other jihadist groups. In July, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov announced that over 2,200 are fighting in Syria and Iraq.
“The figures start getting really alarming,” he stated, adding:
At the time being, around 2,200 people from Russia are engaged in the fighting in Syria and Iraq. Among them, about 500 came from Europe, where they had earlier obtained citizenship, residence permit or refugee status. We are thoroughly analyzing belligerent statements of IS leaders on transition of the “jihad” to Northern Caucasus and in Central Asia.
In mid-June, the Russia’s Interior Ministry reported over 400 Chechens have joined terrorist groups, mainly ISIS, since the Syrian Civil War broke out.
“A total of 405 people, according to our data, have left Chechnya to join the fighting in Syria on the side of the Islamic State since the beginning of the war in that region,” said the spokesman. “Among those, 104 have been killed and 44 came back, while the fate of the rest is unknown.”
While leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hardly shows his face, the terrorist group plasters military leader Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen, all over its propaganda. ISIS featured him in a video last August from one of its children training centers, with children showing off their military skills for al-Shishani.
Chechens in Syria threatened President Vladimir Putin for supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and in a video released last September, vowed to liberate Chechnya and Russia’s North Caucasus.
“We will, with the consent of Allah, free Chechnya and all of the Caucasus!” said the fighter. “The Islamic State is here and will stay here, and it will spread with the grace of Allah! Your throne has already been shaken. It is under threat and will fall with our arrival. We’re already on our way with the grace of Allah!”