A Syrian rebel group linked to al-Qaida is claiming responsibility for shooting down a Russian jet near the rebel-held town of Saraqeb, Syria.
Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed the shoot-down on Saturday and said the pilot was killed by rebels after parachuting to the ground.
Syrian monitors and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pilot was flying a Russian-made Su-25 jet — a low-flying twin-engine aircraft designed to support ground troops — when the aircraft was damaged. Multiple witnesses on the ground say the pilot was killed after opening fire on rebels trying to capture him.
The rebel group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) claimed responsibility and posted video of the flaming wreckage on its Ebaa News Agency, where it was monitored by the SITE intelligence service.
HTS is also known as al-Qaida in Syria and contains elements of the former al-Nusra Front, though it claims to be independent from the main body of al-Qaida.
Some reports say this is the first time rebels have shot down a Russian warplane from the ground in Syria.
HTS quoted a rebel commander saying, the shootdown “is the least that could be done to avenge our people, and to let the criminal assailants know that our skies are not a park for them to fly across without paying the price, with permission from Allah the Almighty.”
The incident took place in the northwestern province of Idlib, where the jet would have been supporting pro-government Syrian troops attacking Saraqeb.
Syrian government troops have been trying to gain access to a key highway that connects two of Syria’s largest cities: Aleppo and Damascus.