Angry Syrians Say Russia Waging “Holy War,” “Invading Syria”

Muslims inside and outside Syria are furious that Russia is hitting a range of targets

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 1, the second day of strikes. — REUTERS
Oct 01, 2015 at 12:35 PM ET

Syrians and Muslims across the Arab world are enraged over Russia’s strikes on a wide range of Syrian opposition targets, and are accusing Russia and its president Vladimir Putin of not just “invading Syria” but of waging a “holy war” against Islam.

The Kremlin has said that its airstrikes were aimed at ISIS and other “terrorist organisations,” but all the available independent evidence suggests that, up to now, all its attacks have been aimed not at ISIS but at other rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally.

The attacks and reports of civilian deaths sparked social media users to splash hashtags like “Russia is killing the Syrian people” and “Russia is invading Syria” across online platforms.

More than two thousand posts included the tag “Nazi Russia is killing Syria’s children,” often alongside images and videos allegedly showing children killed in assaults that many are slamming as a war on Islam.

A deadly airstrike that destroyed a mosque Thursday was central to a much of the anger. Syrians declared Russia’s actions a “holy war” against the Islamic faith and prayed for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demise. A Saudi cleric said he is asking God to make Russia and Putin fall on Syrian land and turn Syria into a graveyard for Russians.

Many others, including ISIS supporters, looked to the Russian Orthodox Church’s vocal support for Moscow’s operation as clear sign of a “holy battle.” “The churches in Russia have blessed any war against Muslims since the days of the Tsars,” someone in an ISIS forum said. “Since they were defeated by Muslims in the days of Ivan the Terrible their leaders are against the Muslims, as of now.”

“Is anyone still doubting it’s a Crusader war after the Russian church said the Russian war is a holy war?” an ISIS supporter tweeted.

In a clear sign of the conflict’s swift escalation, hundreds of Iranian troops on Thursday joined a ground offensive backing Assad’s government, Lebanese sources told Reuters. The Facebook page of the major Syrian opposition group called for a protest on Friday under the slogan “Russia and Iran – The axis of terror.” “In the name of the holy war, Russia, America and Iran are killing our children,” a Syrian rebel said.

One meme showed Russian President Vladimir Putin being welcomed to Syria by the Lebanese Hassan Nasrallah, who leads the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah. Based in Lebanon, it is supporting the Syrian regime and fighting ISIS.

Others posted memes and cartoons against Russia and the United States, which some accused of cooperating with Russia and Iran in a campaign against ISIS.