Al-Qaeda-Linked Jihadists Shoot Down Syrian Warplane, Capture Pilot

AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov
AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov
Washington, D.C.

“A Syrian warplane was shot down in the town of Al-Eis in Syria’s Aleppo province on Tuesday, with the pilot captured alive by jihadi forces,” reports Kurdish media outlet Rudaw.

Reuters adds that it was the second Syrian warplane shot down by “rebels” in less than a month.

VICE News quoted a U.K.-based monitoring group as saying, “Fighters from al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra, shot down a Syrian warplane and captured its pilot on Tuesday in an area south of Aleppo where insurgents are battling the Syrian army and allied militias.”

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which monitors the Syrian conflict through a network of ground sources, is quoted by various news outlets as reporting that Nusra Front jihadists captured the pilot alive.

Citing the Observatory, Reuters notes, “The aircraft crashed on Tuesday in… south of Aleppo city, an area where al Qaeda-affiliated insurgents have come under heavy bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes since capturing it in recent days.”

The monitoring group reportedly added, “the pilot was seized alive by fighters from al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.”

In a statement on Twitter, the Islamist group Ahrar al-Shaman al Qaeda-linked jihadist group, reportedly took responsibility for downing the jet fighter.

However, Agence-France-Presse (AFP) cited a rebel source as saying the plane “was likely [shot down] by fighters from Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Al-Nusra Front” and the pilot had been taken alive.

Rudaw reports that the plane was a Russian-made Su-22 warplane, but noted that military-diplomatic source told Russia’s TASS News on Tuesday that the jet belongs to the Syrian Air Force.

“Syria’s military said the plane was on a reconnaissance mission when it crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile,” reports Reuters. “The pilot survived and efforts were under way to rescue him, it said.”

According to SOHR, the warplane was most likely shot down by anti-aircraft missile.

“Rebels last downed a Syrian jet in the western province of Hama on March 12. Then they also denied a Russian Defence Ministry report they had used an anti-aircraft missile,” notes Reuters. “The Observatory said on that occasion a rebel group had used two heat-seeking missiles.”

Reuters quoted the Syrian army as saying that the rebels shot down the jet with an “anti-aircraft missile, which have been long demanded by foreign-backed rebels against devastating aerial raids by Syrian and, since September, Russian forces.”

Rebels reportedly said they used anti-aircraft guns to bring down the plane.

“Their backers, which include Western and Sunni Muslim regional states, have been wary of delivering weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles that could fall into the hands of hardline groups,” notes Reuters.

“Any confirmation the rebels now have the missile equipment would be a major escalation in their weaponry,” it adds. “Syria says an anti-aircraft missile was also used by rebels to shoot down a warplane in western Syria in March.”

A fragile “cessation of hostilities” has held for more than a month in Syria as parties to the conflict attempt to negotiate an end to the civil war that began in March 2011.

“But the truce excludes Islamic State and Nusra Front, and air and land attacks by Syrian and allied forces continue in parts of Syria where the government says the groups are present,” reports Reuters.