Saudi Clerics Call For Jihad Against Assad, Russia and Iran in Syria

Dozens of Saudi Arabian clerics and academics released a statement on Monday, calling on the world's Sunni Muslims to "hurry" to Syria, to fight jihad against the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies. They also called on Sunni governments to "give all moral, material, political and military" support to the effort to defeat the Syrian leader.

Fifty-two Saudis issued the joint statement, demanding that all able-bodied Muslims from both Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, answer the call of jihad and fight alongside Sunni extremist groups in Syria against Assad's regime and the Iranian and Russian forces. Iran follows the Shiite strand of Islam and is competing for influence in the region with Sunni superpower Saudi Arabia.

"This is a real war on Sunnis, their countries and their identities," said the statement. "The holy warriors of Syria are defending the whole Islamic nation. Trust them and support them... because if they are defeated, God forbid, it will be the turn of one Sunni country after another." The statement also issued a call for Syrian rebel fighters to "unify their front" against the Syrian regime and the foreign forces.

The clerics who issued the joint statement are not affiliated with the Saudi Arabian government in Riyadh, Reuters reports, although the Saudi regime has been a key backer of the Syrian rebel groups fighting the insurgency against Assad.

Russia confirmed last week that it had begun an airstrike campaign against militant group ISIS in Syria, although later admitted it was also targeting other opposition groups in the country. Iran, another key ally to Assad, has been steadily building up its military force in Syria in recent months, and reportedly deployed hundreds of troops last week to fight alongside the Syrian army, Lebanese sources told Reuters.

The clerics' statement was released on the same day that 41 Syrian rebel groups issued an appeal to regional states to form a coalition, in order to defeat what they called "the Russian-Iranian alliance occupying Syria."

The statement released by the rebel groups read: "Russia jumped in to rescue the Assad regime after it was clinically dead, in order to prevent it from suffering a sweeping defeat. Civilians have been directly targeted in a manner that reminds us of the scorched earth policy pursued by Russia in its past wars."

The umbrella group of the Free Syrian Army (which is backed by the U.S.), the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham (The Free Men of Syria) group, and the Jaish al-Islam group that is part of the wider Islamic Front coalition fighting the Assad regime, all signed the joint statement. The U.S. does not currently list Ahrar al-Sham or Jaish al-Islam as terrorist organizations.