Syrian Chopper Crashes, Crew Captured by Al-Nusra Front

nusra front
AFP Photo / Guillaume Briquet

The Associated Press reports that a Syrian military helicopter has crashed following an equipment malfunction, resulting in the capture and killing of its crew by “insurgents” of the al-Nusra Front.

AP’s information comes from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports the helicopter made an emergency crash landing with six crew aboard near the town of Jabal al-Zawiya.  Five of the crewmen were taken prisoner, with one of them swiftly executed by his captors; the fate of the sixth is unknown.

The insurgents have posted several pictures of the crashed helicopter and captive crew members in the hands of masked militants on Twitter. Reuters says one of the photos posted online appears to show the execution of a captured crewman.

“Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch posted a picture of one of the pilots sitting on a mattress on the floor of a room under a hung banner of the group,” Reuters adds.  “A video released on social media showed another captured pilot being cursed by a Nusra cleric who blamed him for dropping bombs to kill and maim civilians.”

Both Reuters and the Associated Press mention the use of Syrian military helicopters to drop nefarious “barrel bombs,” which the AP describes as “giant canisters packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives and scrap metal,” on targets with a large share of civilians in the blast radius.  None of these reports mentions any hard evidence that the downed chopper was flying a barrel-bomb mission, but it is an important bit of context to understand how much every wing of the Syrian insurgency loathes regime helicopters and their crews.