A Syrian jet takes off from al-Dumayr military airport northeast of Damascus on April 8, 2016. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—A Syrian regime warplane crashed northeast of Damascus on Friday in territory under rebel control. Reports indicate the pilot was captured and killed by the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front.
Syrian state media said the aircraft crashed due to a technical fault, that the pilot had ejected, and authorities had launched a search for the pilot. Rebels, however, said that the plane had been shot down in the mountainous region of Qalamun.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was not able to verify what caused the plane to go down but did confirm that the pilot landed near the town of Jayrud, 60 kilometres northeast of Damascus, the head of the Observatory Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Jaish al-Islam, which controls territory in the eastern outskirts of Damascus, claimed to have shot down the plane, which they said was a Russian Sukhoi Su-22, and published a photo of a man it said was the pilot and a member of the Alawite sect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam added that the pilot was killed by a Nusra Front fighter while he was being held at a joint command centre.
“We call on the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham to issue a statement explaining what happened and also call on them to hand over the pilot’s body,” reads a statement from Jaish al-Islam.
Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham are two coalition groups of Islamist and Salafist opposition rebels. They are backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Jaish al-Islam’s aim is to overthrow the Assad regime. Ahrar al-Sham’s aim is to create an Islamic state; it is allied with the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
Rebel groups in Syria have downed at least two other Syrian warplanes this year using anti-aircraft guns. Foreign-backed rebel groups have asked for anti-aircraft missiles to protect themselves from the regime’s air campaign.