Turkey shoots down Russian jet on Syrian border

A still image made available on Nov 24, 2015, from video footage shown by the HaberTurk TV Channel shows a burning trail as a plane comes down after being shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border, over north Syria.
A still image made available on Nov 24, 2015, from video footage shown by the HaberTurk TV Channel shows a burning trail as a plane comes down after being shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border, over north Syria. PHOTO: EPA

ANKARA • Nato member Turkey yesterday shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border that it said had violated its airspace, an act President Vladimir Putin said would have "serious consequences" for ties between two key protagonists in the Syria war.

The Turkish army said the plane had violated Turkish airspace 10 times within a five-minute period, an account challenged by Moscow, which said the plane was over Syria.

Turkish television pictures showed the Russian plane exploding and crashing in a ball of flames into a Syrian mountain.

The incident occurred as Russia and the West were slowly edging towards some manner of understanding to unite forces to confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in the wake of the bloody terrorist attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian charter flight over Egypt that together killed 354 people.

Nato has called an emergency meeting over the incident, the first of its kind since Russia launched air strikes in Syria in September.

The presence of military aircraft from Russia, the US, France, Turkey and a clutch of Gulf states in Syrian skies had long raised fears of an incident that could escalate into a major diplomatic and military crisis.

In his first remarks on the incident, Mr Putin confirmed that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet had shot down the Russian jet, a Sukhoi SU-24, with an air-to-air missile.

But he said the plane had been attacked when it was 1km inside Syria, and he insisted that it had never threatened Turkey's territory.

Mr Putin, speaking slowly and clearly angry before a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Sochi, Russia, called the downing of the jet a "stab in the back" by those who "abet" terrorism, and he accused Turkey of aiding ISIS by helping it sell its oil. "Today's tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations," he warned.

The Turkish army said the downing took place over the Yayladagi district of Turkey's Hatay province on the border with Syria. It said the Russian plane was shot down "according to the rules of engagement".

Reports said two pilots had ejected from the plane and Turkish television pictures showed two white parachutes descending to the ground. The pilots' fates were not certain.

Turkish media said one pilot was captured by rebel forces in Syria, while Syrian opposition sources said one was dead and another missing.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'Turkey shoots down Russian jet on Syrian border'. Print Edition | Subscribe