Damascus Russian Embassy Al-Qaeda
Several hundred people, holding up portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian counterpart Valdimir Putin gathered near the Russian embassy in Damascus AFP PHOTO/LOUAI BESHARA

Al-Qaeda's offshoot in Syria has placed a bounty of €3m (£2.2m, $3.4m) on the head of Bashar al-Assad and urged militants to attack Russians in retaliation for the Kremlin's military intervention in support of the regime.

In an audio recording released online, Abu Muhammad al-Golani, the head of the Islamist Nusra Front said the group would pay the money even to members of Assad's family if they were to kill the president. He similarly pledged a €2m reward to the killer of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah that has been fighting alongside government forces.

The jihadi leader also called for attacks on Assad's Alawite minority sect and Russians, describing Moscow's involvement in Syria as a Christian crusade bound to fail. "If the Russian army kills the people of Syria, then kill their people. And if they kill our soldiers, then kill their soldiers. An eye for an eye," Golani said, according to a translation by AFP.

After the message was released the Russian embassy in Damascus, it was targeted by shell fire while Assad supporters were holding a demonstration to thank the Kremlin for its military backing.

No one was wounded in the attack that drew a condemnation from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. "This is obviously a terrorist act intended to, probably, frighten supporters of the war against terror and to not allow them to prevail in the fight with extremism," he said.

Moscow began air strikes in Syria to shore up the shaking Assad regime at the end of September, painting the operation as part of a war against terrorism. The Kremlin said it is attacking Islamic State (IS) group and other jihadists but the US says moderate rebel groups opposed to Assad have also been targeted.