Syrian rebels 'shot dead Russian pilots as they descended in parachutes'

Turkmen officials claim they have the bodies of both Russian pilots after shooting them out of the sky

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The Independent Online

Syrian rebel forces claim to have killed two Russian pilots who had safely parachuted free from the jet shot down by Turkey near the Syrian border.

Officials for the Turkmen Brigade insurgent group said they shot the pilots in the air, and earlier posted video and photos purporting to show one of the pilots found dead on the ground.

Speaking to Reuters in the village of Yamadi while holding what he claimed was a piece of one of the pilot’s parachutes, a Turkmen deputy commander claimed the group possessed the bodies of both Russian airmen.

“Both of the pilots were retrieved dead,” said Alpaslan Celik. “Our comrades opened fire into the air and they died in the air.”

Earlier, a rebel spokesman said they would consider releasing the bodies in exchange for prisoners held by the Syrian regime.

Separately, rebels with the Free Syrian Army claimed to have downed a Russian helicopter while it searched for the pilots.

The US-armed group claimed to have successfully hit the aircraft with an anti-tank missile. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the helicopter performed an emergency landing in nearby regime-controlled territory.

Russian jet downed

Russia has been bombing the Turkmen near the border with Turkey for a number of weeks, providing aerial support for Syrian regime ground troops.

Turkey, which has traditionally protected the region because of its people’s mixed Turkish and Syrian descent, summoned the Russian ambassador last week as a signal of discontent.

On Tuesday morning, Turkey said it had shot down a Russian jet which repeatedly violated its airspace while conducting bombing raids against the Turkmen in Latakia.

But Russia said its jet remained in Syrian skies at all times, and Vladimir Putin described the intervention by Turkey as “a stab in the back”.