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Turkish Forces Shoot Down Russian Fighter Jet For Violating Its Airspace


Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet today, saying the warplane had violated its airspace, even after many warnings. Russia denies that its plane crossed into Turkey and now is threatening serious consequences. NPR's Corey Flintoff brings us the latest from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: The two sides dispute the details, but the incident happened in a mountainous area where a wedge of Turkish territory extends into Northern Syria. Turkey first said that it had shot down an unknown intruder after warning it 10 times that it was trespassing. Witnesses in the area posted video of the stricken plane spewing a trail of flame as it streaked toward the ground.

The plane drops behind a mountain and explodes. The plane fell on the Syrian side in an area said to be controlled by rebels aligned with the Free Syrian Army. A video released by the rebels shows men firing at two parachutes as they descend from the sky.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

FLINTOFF: Some of the men are said to be trying to stop the shooting, arguing that the pilots should be held captive. A later video shows rebel fighters crowded around the fallen figure of a man in a flight suit. His face is bruised and swollen, and he's not moving. The rebels say he's one of the Russian pilots dead when his parachute hit the ground.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

FLINTOFF: The rebels say they're searching for the other pilot. Russian combat helicopters were apparently searching for the men as well, and video showed a pair of them flying low over the region. Rebels claim to have hit one of the helicopters, and Russian defense officials confirmed that one crew member was killed and a helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in a government-controlled area. Russian president Vladimir Putin reacted angrily to the Turkish attack.


VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) Today's loss is the result of a stab in the back delivered by the accomplices of the terrorists.

FLINTOFF: Putin said the Russian fighter was more than half a mile inside Syria when it was hit. He insisted that the pilots were fighting ISIS, but the United States and its allies say the area is controlled mainly by the Free Syrian Army, which opposes both ISIS and Syrian president Assad. In his comments today, Putin accused Turkey of supporting ISIS and profiting financially from the terrorist group's oil smuggling trade.


PUTIN: (Through interpreter) If ISIS is making so much money, possibly billions of dollars, in the oil trade and they are supported by the armed forces of an entire state, it is clear why they have been so daring and impudent.

FLINTOFF: He said the attack will have significant consequences for Russian-Turkish relations. Turkey, a NATO member, reported on the incident at an emergency meeting of the alliance today in Brussels. Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country had the right and duty to defend its airspace.


AHMET DAVUTOGLU: (Foreign language spoken).

FLINTOFF: "Everyone should know," he said, "that we would make any sacrifice and take every precaution when our country's border security and our citizens' well-being is in question as we are encircled by flame." Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.