Report: Russians Told Syrians To Shoot Down Turkish Jet, Kill Pilots

Back in June, tensions between Turkey and Syria nearly exploded when Syria shot down a Turkish F-4, resulting in the death of two Turks. Turkey claimed at the time that the jet was over international waters when it was shot down, while the Syrians claimed that it was in Syrian air space. While the incident passed without any further developments, a report from al-Arabiya threatens to stir the pot again, with a Russian twist:

 As political tensions mount between neighboring Syria and Turkey, newly-leaked Syrian intelligence documents obtained by Al Arabiya disclose shocking claims shedding light on the dreadful fate of two Turkish Air Force pilots.

Contrary to what was publically claimed, the documents reveal that the pilots survived the crash, but were later executed by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad


One highly confidential document was sent directly from the presidential office of President Assad to brigadier Hassan Abdel Rahman (who Al Arabiya’s sources identify as the chief of the Syrian Special Operations Unit) states the following:

“Two Turkish pilots were captured by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence after their jet was shot down in coordination with the Russian naval base in (the Syrian city of) Tartus.”

The file therefore reveals two critical reports. First, the pilots were still alive after the plane had crashed. And second, that Russia held its share of involvement in this secretive mission.

The same document orders the concerned parties to treat both Turkish pilots according to the protocol of war prisoners, as instructed by the president.

It also requests that both men be investigated about Turkey’s role in supporting the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the country’s main armed opposition group.

The report also suggests the possibility of transferring the pilots into the neighboring Lebanese territory, leaving them in the custody of Assad’s ally, Hezbollah.

It gets more interesting from there:

A subsequently leaked file, also sent from the presidential palace and addressed to all heads of units of the Syrian foreign intelligence, reads: “Based on information and guidance from the Russian leadership comes a need to eliminate the two Turkish pilots detained by the Special Operations Unit in a natural way and their bodies need to be returned to the crash site in international waters.” 

The document also suggests the Syrian government sends a “menacing” message to the Turkish government, insinuating Syria’s capability of mobilizing Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK) on the Turkish borders, notifying Ankara from the danger it might face in case of any hostile move.

The documents are at the link, although they are in Arabic so I don’t imagine that’s going to be very helpful for most of you. It’s also worth noting that al-Arabiya has ties to the Saudi government, which has been backing the anti-Assad rebellion. In any event, this should be relatively easy to confirm I would think. The Turks reported finding the bodies of the pilots about two weeks after the incident. Presumably, if it’s true that they were killed after being shot down and then returned to the ocean near the site of the wreckage, there would be some forensic evidence that would support this.

If this is true, though, it opens an entirely door in the tensions that have been developing between Syria and Turkey since the rebellion began. Until very recently, for example, the Syrian rebels have been operating rather freely out of Turkey, although they’ve since moved their headquarters into Syria itself. Additionally, Syria has been the destination of choice for most of the people fleeing the fighting. As for the Russian involvement, well I’m not sure where to even begin with that one.

Stay tuned.

H/T: The Atlantic Wire

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Quick Takes, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. ratufa says:

    Sounds worth ignoring, until there is better evidence that it is true.

  2. Chris Berez says:

    This is certainly disgusting, if true. But what could actually happen as a result? Turkey steps up it’s support of the Syrian rebels? Turkey goes to the UN demanding condemnation and/or action against Russia? The rest of the world keeps calling the Russians assholes? I don’t really see what could result from this.

    I’m not trying to be snarky or dismissive, either. I honestly am wondering what difference it would actually make, even if this is all proven true.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    Grain of salt time me thinks!

  4. John Burgess says:

    The documents say what they are alleged to say. That is, the Arabic actually says that the pilots were murdered.

    When I first saw the documents, though, my first thought was disinformation. There’s no particular reason why, other than that the source definitely had motive to produce documents damning the Syrian government.

    On the other hand, the Syrian government is certainly capable of doing just what the documents claim they did. Syria is surely among the most thuggish of police states today.

    Without a real examination of the documents, however, it’s impossible to say whether they’re real or not. It is just as much an act of political preference to deny their authenticity as to assert their validity.

    As far as I’m concerned, the documents go into a folder labeled: “Meaningless until provenance is clarified”.

  5. @John Burgess:

    Thank you for confirming the translation.

    I am skeptical about this myself for many of the reasons you note. Including the possibility that some nation other than Syria may have faked these documents.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    I’m taking this with a large grain of salt, about one solar mass…..

    I just can’t see Russia being this stupid, actually. They’re quite willing to shadowbox for Syria in the UN and make supporting noises to newspapers, but actual military support? Me very very dubious until further evidence.

    (Now, I’m wondering if this isn’t an internal Syrian attempt to force Russia into such a position that they can’t do anything else but support Syria militarily. This I can more likely believe.)

  7. @grumpy realist

    If it’s confirmed that these are genuine Syrian documents, I wonder how the Russians will respond if your scenario is correct.

  8. DC Loser says:

    I call BS on this. This is most likely disinformation from the Free Syrian Army to provoke a Turkish or NATO intervention.

  9. Richard Gardner says:

    I’m not about to call for a NATO Treaty Article V response, based on tenuous evidence in an Arab tabloid (but the National Enquirer was right about John Edwards, so I won’t dismiss it either). Syria is a Baath Party mess, and OMG we don’t know where all their chemical weapons are (previous post on OTB). Um, the USAF lost track of a few nuclear bombs (cruise missiles) out of Minot ND a few years ago (got loaded on planes headed to Barksdale LA thinking they were conventional, oops), and now CIA/DIA is supposed to know every fart happening in Syria.

    Sometimes I have to laugh at the expectations on the intelligence community (and the Mongolian Presidential limo is getting its oil changed today?).

  10. Tillman says:

    It’s also worth noting that al-Arabiya has ties to the Saudi government, which has been backing the anti-Assad rebellion.

    Yup, pretty much every Arab news outlet is government-owned. The trouble is keeping track of which outlet goes with which nation.

  11. John Burgess says:

    Al-Arabiya, a satellite TV channel, is not government owned. It is, however, owned by MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Company) which is owned by several princes of the Saudi royal family and independent businessmen. What it publishes is not often far from official (even if unstated) government policy, but it does a reputable job.

    It operates out of Dubai (UAE) Media City and was established to provide a pan-Arab counter-voice to Al-Jazeera when that channel was constantly running interview with Al-Qaeda leaders.

  12. Anderson says:

    Sounds worth ignoring, until there is better evidence that it is true.

    The more important question surely is how Turkey chooses to react.

  13. Even if this is true, who are we to condemn Russia? Is what they’re helping the Syrian government do to its people in the name of maintaining access to their Naval Base any different than what we helped the Bahrani government do to its people in the name of maintaining access to our Naval Base?

  14. Bill says:

    A few weeks ago the Syrian information agency claimed a helicopter and a A320 collided in mid-air at 12,000 feet. The helicopter crashed, the Airbus made an emergency landing. After the crash, rebels claimed to have shot down the helicopter. What happened? I don’t know, but there are skeptics so far as there being a midair accident.

    Bottom line- It is increasingly difficult to believe any claims of the Syrian government.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yes. That’s why I think if this is a disinformation/black ops thing whoever’s running it isn’t that bright.