The start of Russian airstrikes to prop up embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government could trigger a new wave of foreign fighters, strengthening jihadists across the region, experts say.
U.S. intelligence officials have been warning about potential fallout since Moscow began expanding its military footprint in Syria earlier this month. But such calls have taken on greater urgency with Russian bombs falling on Syrian targets as of Wednesday.
"There's no doubt extremists will look to amplify their recruiting pitches to would-be foreign fighters by capitalizing on Russia’s expanded role in Syria," a U.S. counterterrorism official told VOA. "It could also help energize jihadi efforts both inside and outside Syria."
The concerns are being echoed by activists and former diplomats, who charge Russia is playing into the hands of groups like the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra by deliberately targeting civilian areas.
"The Russian action is going to be an accelerant for global jihad," said Salman Shaikh, a former special assistant at the United Nations who is now founder and chief executive officer of the Shaikh Group.
"You can hear 'Allahu Akhbar'" – God is great – "being shouted from Europe and its streets, even [in] the United States and Southeast Asia," he said.
The Russian Orthodox Church may have provided jihadists with additional motivation Wednesday when it issued a statement in support of the airstrikes, calling them part of a "holy war."
Posted by Women Against Shariah on Thursday, October 1, 2015
Here's analysis from Jeff Seldin of the VOA: