Russian fighter jet shot down in Syria’s Idlib province

A Russian Sukhoi-25 fighter jet has been shot down in a rebel-held area in Syria’s north-western province of Idlib.

The Russian defence ministry said the pilot had ejected into an area believed to be controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance.

Although he survived the crash he was killed in a ground fight, Moscow said.

The Syrian government, Russia’s ally, launched a major offensive in December against rebel groups in Idlib.
The Sukhoi-25, a close-support ground-attack aircraft, was operating over the town of Maasran in Idlib.

There had been dozens of Russian air strikes in the area over the previous 24 hours, monitoring groups said.

Video posted on social media showed the jet being hit and quickly catching fire, before spiralling to the ground.

Video from the ground showed the wreckage with red stars on the wings.

Russia’s defence ministry said: “The pilot had enough time to report that he had ejected in an area controlled by the militants of Jabhat al-Nusra.

“During a battle with terrorists, the pilot was killed.”

Jabhat al-Nusra was rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which merged in 2017 with other groups as the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance.

Other video on social media showed a bloodied body in a uniform.

How are the Russians responding?
The defence ministry said it was making all possible efforts to retrieve the body.

However, a slew of social media posts also reported a salvo of cruise missiles had been fired into Idlib province from Russian navy vessels in the Mediterranean, although there is no official confirmation yet.

Who shot the plane down?
It is not yet clear – no-one has said they carried out the attack.

There are rebel groups in the Idlib area other than Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

As to the weapon used, there is only speculation on social media, although the Russian defence ministry said it was probably “a portable anti-aircraft missile system”.

Is this a rare event?
Very. It could be the first time rebels have shot down a Russian fighter jet since Moscow began its Syria campaign in September 2015, although rebels did bring down a helicopter in 2016

About 45 Russian military personnel have been confirmed dead in Syria, along with an unknown number of contractors.