MOSCOW – The pilot of a Russian warplane that was shot down in Syria over the weekend committed suicide with a grenade rather than be captured, the Russian Defence Ministry said Monday.
The pilot, Major Roman Filippov, ejected from the jet under heavy fire in an insurgent-held area, was surrounded and “engaged in an unequal fight with the militants,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
“Severely wounded, when the distance from the militants was only several dozen metres, the officer blew himself up with a grenade,” the statement said. “His death is a heavy loss for the Russian air force.”
“For courage and heroism, the Russian Defence Ministry has presented Roman Filippov the title of Hero of the Russian Federation,” the statement said.
The Su-25 attack aircraft was shot down Saturday in a rebel stronghold in Syria’s north-western Idlib province.
Russian Su-25s have been conducting airstrikes on insurgent targets as part of military support for Syria’s government, a longtime ally.
A spokesman for rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has links to al-Qaeda, said the downing was retaliation for Russia’s bombing campaign.
“This is for the criminal invaders to know that our skies are not a picnic for them and they cannot cross through without paying the price,” Mahmoud Turkistani said in comments carried by the Ebaa news agency, an outlet seen as close to the rebel group.
The Russian warplane was most likely hit in its right engine with a heat-seeking missile shot from a hand-held launcher, a senior Russian official said.
To be targeted by a man-portable air-defence system, also known as MANPADS, the jet must have been flying relatively close to the ground.
The weapon could have been a Soviet-designed Strela or an American Stinger, the head of a parliamentary committee on defence issues, Vladimir Shamanov, said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
In recent weeks, Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power have intensified attacks in Idlib, the last remaining rebel province in Syria.
Idlib is dominated by hardline jihadists, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The Syrian military last month retook control of the strategic airbase of Abu Dhuhur from insurgents in the region.
Rebel-held areas in Idlib’s countryside have been targeted in at least 50 airstrikes since early Saturday, according to an independent monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) February 3, 2018
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