Jabhat al-Nusra, The Syrian warâ€™s al-Qaida affiliate, has called for terror attacks in Russia, while also urging strikes on Alawite villages.
The threats from the groupâ€™s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, were made on Tuesday in a taped call to arms that condemned the Russian intervention in the conflict, which began two weeks ago. Jolaniâ€™s comments signal another escalation in the four-year war, in which his forces have become increasingly prominent.
â€œThere is no choice but to escalate the battle and to target Alawite towns and villages in Latakia,â€ he said. â€œAnd I call on all factions to hit their villages daily with hundreds of missiles as they do to Sunni towns and villages.â€
The US and a coalition of allied air forces it leads are continuing to target the Islamic State in eastern Syria and north-west Iraq and have accused Moscow of instead attacking opposition groups, including Suqour al-Ghab, despite its claims to the contrary.
The stepped-up supply of Saudi rockets, originally sold to Riyadh by the US, is being seen as a direct reaction to the Russian attacks, raising the spectre of a proxy war between the former cold war foes.
Fighting on the ground near the Syrian presidentâ€™s heartland, and further north in Idlib province has been more intense in the past week than at any point in the past two years.
Underscoring the stakes, Iran recently announced the death of one of its brigadier generals, the most senior Iranian officer killed in combat in more than 30 years, while Hezbollah confirmed that two of its most senior members had also been killed. All three men are believed to have died in fighting in Idlib, where Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham are strongest.