Turkish authorities have detained a man suspected of killing a Russian pilot after his plane was shot down by a Turkish jet near the Syrian-Turkish border last November, Hurriyet reported on Thursday (31 March).
Russian defense officials said at the time that the pilot had managed to eject from his stricken plane only to be killed by ground fire from militants inside Syria. His navigator survived, but a Russian marine was killed during the rescue mission.
The incident wrecked relations between Russia and NATO member Turkey. Moscow responded with fury, calling the episode a planned provocation and imposing a raft of economic sanctions in retaliation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet today (24 November) a stab in the back administered by “the accomplices of terrorists,” saying the incident would have serious consequences.
NATO plans to send air defence support to Turkey partly to minimise the risk of Ankara shooting down another Russian warplane, while assuaging its fears of a spillover from the conflict in Syria, senior alliance sources say.
It was not immediately clear whether the reported arrest of the man, whom Hurriyet identified as Alparslan Çelik, a fighter from a Turkish-backed Turkmen brigade in Syria, had been made in connection with the killing of the pilot.
Hurriyet said he was arrested in a restaurant in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, with a group of 14 people, all of whom were also detained.
Turkish officials were not immediately available to confirm the report.
Turkey says it shot down the Russian jet in its air space after it ignored repeated warnings. Russia says it was flying over Syria and was struck unprovoked.