A Russian pilot was killed on Saturday in fighting with Syrian Islamists after his warplane was downed over Idlib in northwest Syria, AFP reported.
Russia’s defense ministry and a monitor confirmed the incident. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a powerful jihadist-dominated alliance, said it had shot down the plane on an affiliated media channel but made no mention of the pilot.
“We were able to bring down the Russian warplane with a shoulder-fired missile above Saraqib in Idlib this afternoon,” said Mahmoud al-Turkmani, who according to the statement heads HTS’s “air defense brigade.”
He said the attack was in retaliation for a ferocious bombing campaign by Russian warplanes over Idlib.
HTS is dominated by Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate. The group controls Idlib, which it overtookin July of 2017, and has sought to fight back a ferocious Russian-backed assault by Syrian government troops.
The Russian defense ministry confirmed the Su-25 aircraft was shot down over Idlib province and said the pilot was killed “in fighting against terrorists.”
“A Russian Su-25 aircraft crashed during a flight over the Idlib de-escalation zone. The pilot had enough time to announce he had ejected into the zone,” the ministry’s statement said, according to AFP.
“The pilot was killed in fighting against terrorists,” it added, noting that “according to preliminary reports, the plane was shot down by a portable anti-aircraft missile system.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said the jet was downed near the town of Saraqib in Idlib and the pilot parachuted to the ground.
He was killed clashing with rebels as they tried to take him hostage, said the Britain-based Observatory.
Russia has been conducting air strikes in Syria since September 2015, in support of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, its close ally.
While Russia said it was attacking the Islamic State (ISIS), Western officials claimed Moscow was also targeting so-called “moderate” rebel groups fighting ISIS.
Opposition factions have shot Syrian regime planes in the past, but the downing of Russian aircraft is much rarer, noted AFP.
In August 2016, a Russian military helicopter was shot down over Syria and all five people on board were killed.
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