Russian pilot downed in Syria ‘detonated grenade’ to avoid capture by jihadists

Ferocious revenge air strikes from Russian and Syrian air forces hit two hospitals in rebel-held Idlib province after Su-25 shot down in de-escalation zone

Monday 05 February 2018 18:08
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Video purports to show final moments of Russian pilot shot down in Syria

Video purportedly showing the final moments of a Russian pilot whose fighter jet was shot down by al-Qaeda affiliated militants has surfaced from Syria.

Major Roman Filipov was forced to parachute out of his Su-25 fighter jet on Saturday after it was hit by a shoulder-launched MANPAD missile while he was flying low over rebel-held northwestern Idlib province.

The clip released by Hayet Tahrir al Sham - a group which includes fighters from the former al Nusra front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria - shows several armed men running towards the site of the crash.

Gunfire is exchanged between the pilot and the advancing militants before he screams, ‘This is for our guys’. An explosion is heard, which the Russian Ministry of Defence said was Mr Filipov choosing to kill himself by detonating a grenade rather than wait to be captured.

The 33-year-old from Vladivostock, has posthumously been awarded Russia’s highest honour, the Hero of Russia medal.

“The pilot died heroically. The pilot’s family and friends have our condolences, and we are proud of our heroes,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

Saturday’s incident took place in one of four “de-escalation zones” in Syria agreed and monitored by Turkey, Russia and Iran in May 2017.

The Russian Ministry of Defence said the jet was on an observational flight, while opposition activists produced video they claimed proved it had dropped unguided air-to-surface rockets before it was shot down.

Russia came to ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s aid in the bloody civil war in 2015, a move widely credited with turning the tide of the conflict in the government’s favour.

Major Filipov’s death is the first time a Russian jet has been shot down in Syria – and rebel areas are now paying a heavy price.

The incident has led to a wave of retaliation bombings across Idlib which have left dozens of fighters and civilians dead, according to UK-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Approximately 150 attacks struck the towns of Kafr Nubl and Maasran, as well as Saraqeb, Maarat al Numan and Idlib cities, in at least two incidences hitting medical facilities.

In Saraqeb 14 people were admitted to hospital with symptoms of chlorine gas exposure.

Video from the White Helmets civil defence service showed premature babies at an underground hospital in Maarat Al Numan fighting for life after their incubators were affected by the shockwaves from a strike on Sunday night.

Another hospital in Kafranbel was hit on Monday morning, local activists said.

“This is revenge on peaceful civilians,” Najm Khaled, a media activist from Idlib, told The Independent. “It is unprecedented.”

Several sources on the ground said outlawed munitions, such as ballistic missiles and chlorine gas, had been dropped on Idlib in the last few days.

Russian warplane 'shot down and pilot captured' by Syrian rebels

While Idlib – the largest remaining rebel-held zone in the country - is supposedly covered by the de-escalation zone agreement, Syrian government forces have pushed deeper into the region in the last week towards the main Damascus-Aleppo highway. Reaching it would cut off a major rebel supply line.

“The entire ‘de-escalation’ process was clearly yet another effort - like the ‘freezes’, ‘ceasefires’, and ‘cessations of hostility’ in years past—for the pro-Assad coalition to sequence its war,” Kyle Orton, a Syria analyst and research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, told The Independent.

“The regime coalition allows a degree of calm so it can recover, consolidate the gains of past aggression, and concentrate resources on one front for new conquests. The situation in Idlib conforms to this past pattern.”

Around two to three million people are thought to live in Idlib, many of whom who have fled fighting elsewhere in the country.

The intensified fighting has led thousands of people to leave the provinces towns and cities for makeshift camps further north, towards the Turkish border.

“Idlib has never been a safe zone,” local activist Wissam Zarqa said. “That’s an ironic name.”

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