News World Syrian rebels linked to al-Qaeda hunt and kill downed Russian pilot

Syrian rebels linked to al-Qaeda hunt and kill downed Russian pilot

A piece of wreckage from the downed plane whose pilot was hunted down and killed. EPA/Abdalla Saad
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Syrian rebels shot down a Russian warplane and killed its pilot on the ground after he ejected from the plane, Russia’s defence ministry and Syrian rebels say.

The SU-25 ground-attack came down on Saturday in an area of Syria’s northern Idlib province that has seen heavy air strikes and fighting on the ground between government forces backed by Russia and Iran, and rebels who oppose President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrians opposed to Assad see Russia as an invading force they blame for the deaths of thousands of civilians since Moscow joined the war on the side of the Syrian government in 2015.

The Russian plane was shot down over the town of Khan al-Subl near the city of Saraqeb, close to a major highway where the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias are trying to advance, a rebel source said.

Although the Russian pilot escaped the crash, he was killed by rebels who had tried to capture him, the source said.

Tharir al-Sham, a jihadist group spearheaded by the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for shooting down the plane, saying one of its fighters had scored a direct hit with a shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile.

The Russian SU-25 is believed to have been attacking ground positions when it was shot down.

“This work is the least we can do to revenge our people. Let the criminal invaders know that our skies are not a picnic and they will not pass through without paying a price God willing,” senior commander Mahmoud Turkomani said in a statement released by the group.

Russia’s defence ministry also said the aircraft was downed by a portable surface-to-air missile. The pilot reported that he had ejected by parachute, and he was later killed on the ground.

“The pilot died in a fight with terrorists,” it said.

Tass news agency quoted the ministry as saying Moscow retaliated with a strike from an undisclosed high-precision weapon that killed more than 30 militants in an area of Idlib province where the plane was downed.

The Syrian opposition released footage on social media that purported to show the wreckage of the plane and the body of the pilot surrounded by fighters.

Syrian rebels linked to al-Qaeda collect the scattered wreckage of the downed Russian jet.

Rebels said the downed warplane had taken part in strikes that targeted civilian convoys fleeing along a major Syrian highway from villages that the army and foreign militias had overrun.

Syria’s civil war, which is now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

A Russian plane was blamed for the death of seven civilians and scores of injuries after cars were targeted on the highway, according to a witness and two rebels sources.

Syrian soldiers and Iranian-backed militiamen were now around 12 kilometres from Saraqeb, advancing towards the Damascus-Aleppo highway under cover of heavy Russian air strikes, two opposition sources said.

At least five civilians were killed in Saraqeb city on Saturday, which residents blamed on Russian planes.

Syrians in rebel-held areas say they can distinguish between Russian warplanes and those of the Syrian air force, because the Russian planes fly at higher altitude.

-AAP