Turkish F-16s shoot down Russian warplane near Syrian border

Published November 24, 2015
A Turkish F-16 fighter jet takes off from Incirlik airbase in the southern city of Adana, Turkey, in this July 27, 2015 file picture. — Reuters/file
A Turkish F-16 fighter jet takes off from Incirlik airbase in the southern city of Adana, Turkey, in this July 27, 2015 file picture. — Reuters/file
A Turkish Air Force F16 jet fighter prepares to take off from an air base during the Anatolian Eagle military exercise in the central Anatolian city of Konya, in this April 28, 2010 file picture. — Reuters/file
A Turkish Air Force F16 jet fighter prepares to take off from an air base during the Anatolian Eagle military exercise in the central Anatolian city of Konya, in this April 28, 2010 file picture. — Reuters/file
A Sukhoi Su-24 jet fighter drops flares during a joint Kazakh-Russian military exercise at Otar military range, west of Almaty, in this October 3, 2008 file picture.  — Reuters/file
A Sukhoi Su-24 jet fighter drops flares during a joint Kazakh-Russian military exercise at Otar military range, west of Almaty, in this October 3, 2008 file picture. — Reuters/file

ANKARA: Turkey confirmed that it shot down a Russian warplane Tuesday, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings. Russia denied that the plane crossed the Syrian border into Turkish skies.

“We are looking into the circumstances of the crash of the Russian jet,” Russia's Defence Ministry said. “The Ministry of Defence would like to stress that the plane was over the Syrian territory throughout the flight. “

Russia said the Su-24 was downed by artillery fire, but Turkey claimed that its F-16s fired on the Russian plane after it ignored several warnings.

The ministry said the pilots parachuted but added that Moscow had no further contact with them.

One of the pilots of the warplane was in the hands of Turk forces in Syria who were searching for the other pilot, broadcaster CNN Turk reported, citing local sources.

A Turkish military statement said the plane entered Turkish airspace over town of Yaylidag, in Hatay province. It said the plane was warned 10 times within the space of 5 minutes.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the warplane crashed in the Turkmen Mountains region in the coastal province of Latakia.

The Turkomen Mountains region has been subjected to a government offensive in recent days under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

Last month, Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that it said had violated Turkey's airspace

Footage from private broadcaster Haberturk TV showed a warplane going down in flames in a woodland area, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it. The plane went down in area known by Turks as “Turkmen Mountain” in northern Syria near the Turkish border, Haberturk said.

Separate footage from Turkey's Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed.

Russia has repeatedly carried out air strikes in Syria in defence of President Bashar al-Assad. Russia's defence ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Turkey called this week for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss attacks on Turkmens in neighbouring Syria, and last week Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the bombing of their villages.

Ankara has traditionally expressed solidarity with Syrian Turkmens, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.

The warplane shot down by Turkey near the Syrian border on Tuesday was a Russian-made SU-24, Turkish presidential sources said, adding it was downed in line with Turkey's rules of engagement after violating Ankara's airspace.

President Tayyip Erdogan has been briefed by the head of the military and will talk to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the sources said.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has spoken with the chief of military staff and the foreign minister about the developments on the Syrian border, the prime minister's office said in a statement, without mentioning the downed jet.

He has ordered the foreign ministry to consult with Nato, the United Nations and related countries on the latest developments, his office said.

Russia calls incident 'very serious'

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman on Tuesday called the downing of a Russian Su-24 warplane in Syria a “very serious incident”, but said it was too early to draw conclusions.

“It is just impossible to say something without having full information,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, told reporters.

The Russian Defence Ministry has said it could prove its plane had not strayed into Turkish airspace.

Last month, Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that it said had violated Turkey's airspace.

One pilot dead, other missing

One pilot of the Russian plane downed by Turkey over northern Syria on Tuesday is dead and a second is missing, rebel and opposition activist sources told AFP.

The sources said the first pilot was killed by opposition forces who shot at him as he landed after ejecting from the plane.

Several videos circulating online and shared on opposition social media sites purported to show the dead pilot surrounded by rebels from different factions.

Turkey changed its rules of engagement a few years ago after Syria shot down a Turkish plane. According to the new rules, Turkey said it would consider all “elements” approaching from Syria an enemy threat and would act accordingly.

Following earlier accusations of Russian intrusion into Turkish airspace, the US European Command on November 6 deployed six US Air Force F-15 fighters from their base in Britain to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to help the Nato-member country secure its skies.

The European Command said the deployment was “in response to the government of Turkey's request for support in securing the sovereignty of Turkish airspace.”

In October, Nato's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, had warned Moscow it was courting “extreme danger” by sending planes into Turkish air space.

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