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Syria's al-Qaida affiliate calls Russian airstrikes new Crusader campaign to save Assad rule

  • CORRECTS PUTIN's TITLE - This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrians holding photos of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a rally to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria, in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Insurgents fired two shells at the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital on Tuesday as hundreds of pro-government supporters gathered outside the compound to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria. The placard at right with Arabic reads, "yes to Russian-Syrian cooperation." (SANA via AP)

    CORRECTS PUTIN's TITLE - This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrians holding photos of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a rally to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria, in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Insurgents fired two shells at the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital on Tuesday as hundreds of pro-government supporters gathered outside the compound to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria. The placard at right with Arabic reads, "yes to Russian-Syrian cooperation." (SANA via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • CORRECTS PUTIN's TITLE  - This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows, Syrians holding photos of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a protest to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria, in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Insurgents fired two shells at the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital on Tuesday as hundreds of pro-government supporters gathered outside the compound to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria. The placards in Arabic read, "yes to Russian-Syrian cooperation," center left,  and "thank you Russia, thank you Russia," center right. (SANA via AP)

    CORRECTS PUTIN's TITLE - This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows, Syrians holding photos of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a protest to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria, in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Insurgents fired two shells at the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital on Tuesday as hundreds of pro-government supporters gathered outside the compound to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria. The placards in Arabic read, "yes to Russian-Syrian cooperation," center left, and "thank you Russia, thank you Russia," center right. (SANA via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens during his meeting with U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura  in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens during his meeting with U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)  (The Associated Press)

Syria's al-Qaida affiliate has released an audio message purportedly from its leader, describing Russian military intervention as a "new Crusader campaign" aiming to save the rule of President Bashar Assad.

The Nusra Front leader known as Abu Muhammed al-Golani called on Syrian militant and rebel groups to unite and intensify shelling of villages inhabited by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect.

Al-Golani also called on Muslims in the former Soviet Union to attack Russian civilians if Russians target civilians in Syria.

The audio released early Tuesday comes nearly two weeks after Russia began airstrikes in Syria.

Russia insists it is mainly targeting the Islamic State group and other "terrorists," but the multi-pronged ground-and-air offensive is being waged in areas controlled by mainstream rebels as well as the Nusra Front.