BEIRUT (Reuters, AFP) - One Russian pilot of a plane downed by Turkey over northern Syria on Tuesday (Nov 24) is dead and a second is missing, rebel and opposition activist sources told Agence France-Presse.
Fadi Ahmed, a spokesman for the First Coastal Front rebel group, said “the Russian pilot was killed by gunfire as he fell with his parachute” in the Jabal Turkman area of Latakia province on the coast.
“The 10th Brigade (rebel group) transferred the body of the dead Russian to the local rebel joint operations room,” said Omar Jablawi, a media activist working with rebels in the area. He declined to specify exactly where the joint operations room was located.
The sources said rebels were still searching for the second Russian pilot of the Su-24 aircraft, which Ankara said was downed by Turkish forces after violating its territory.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian helicopters were combing the area between Jabal Turkman and government-held Kassab on the Turkish border searching for the second Russian.
“One Russian helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in an area controlled by the regime in northeastern Latakia after being fired on by rebels,” the monitoring group’s chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Online, opposition and rebel accounts on Twitter and Facebook circulated several videos depicting from several angles the man said to be the dead Russian pilot. In them, a man can been seen in military uniform with straps across his chest and blood on his face. Rebels refer to the man as a “Russian pilot” and “Russian pig”, but the location of the footage was not specified and it was impossible to verify the videos.
Russia began an air campaign in Syria on Sept 30, saying it was targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other “terrorists.” But Syria’s rebel groups and their backers accuse Moscow of focusing on Islamist and moderate opposition fighters rather than extremists.
Fierce battles have raged for the past several days between rebel groups, not including ISIS, and regime forces backed by Russian air power in parts of northern Latakia province.
The regime has made some advances, though the frontline has shifted in both directions, according to the Observatory.