NEW: One of two pilots is killed; also killed is a Russian marine during a rescue operation, Russian news agency says
Russian plane was warned numerous times, Turkey's President says
ISIS isn't present on border area, but "our brothers and sisters -- Turkmen" were there, he adds
One of the world’s most volatile regions was roiled further Tuesday when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey said it hit the plane after it violated Turkey’s airspace and ignored 10 warnings.
One of the two pilots was killed in the air by fire from the ground, according to Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti. The fate of the second pilot wasn’t disclosed.
Meanwhile, a Russian marine was killed on Tuesday during an operation to rescue the two pilots, who were flying an Su-24 warplane in a combat sortie, according to RIA Novosti.
Turkey and Russia exchanged bellicose language after the downing of the plane, raising fears in the international community that the Syrian conflict could spiral into something wider.
The Russian plane was dealt with because it “did not answer our warning,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.
ISIS isn’t present at that border area, but Turkmen were there, Erdogan said. Anyone who bombs that area attacks “our brothers and sisters – Turkmen,” Erdogan said in Ankara. Turkmen are a Turkic-speaking, traditionally nomadic people who live primarily in Central Asia, but a small minority of them can be found in the Middle East, primarily in northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Erdogan said the plane incident was not something Turkey wanted to see happen, and “this does not indicate any animosity” toward any country.
He added the downed jet was “one of two” planes but didn’t elaborate beyond that.
It’s been Turkey’s cool approach that has prevented similar incidents up to now, he added.
Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kilic, tweeted: “Understand this: Turkey is a country whose warnings should be taken seriously and listened to. Don’t test Turkey’s patience. Try to win its friendship.”
A U.S. official told CNN that a calculation shows the Russian jet was in Turkish airspace for 30 seconds or less. The Turkish government has said that it issued 10 warnings over five minutes but did not say all of those warnings occurred while the jet was in their airspace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the downing of the plane would have “serious consequences for Russia’s relationship with Turkey.”
The shooting of the plane, Putin said, “represents a stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices. I can’t describe what has happened today in any other way. Our plane was downed over Syrian territory by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16 jet.
“The plane fell on Syrian territory 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the Turkish border. It was flying 1 kilometer away from the Turkish border when it was attacked. In any case, neither our pilots nor our jet posed any threat to Turkey. That is obvious. They were carrying out an operation fighting against ISIL in Northern Latakia.” (ISIL is another acronym for ISIS.)
The two Russian pilots managed to eject their Su-24 plane, the Russian military said.
Two Russian Mi-8 helicopters performed a search-and-rescue operation, but one of them was damaged by small arms fire and made an emergency landing, Russian Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy said. One Russian marine was killed.
“The helicopter was destroyed by mortar fire conducted from the territory controlled by illegal, armed groups,” Rudskoy said.
Future Russia airstrikes “will be carried out only under cover of fighter aircraft,” Rudskoy said.
Also, the Russian cruiser Moskva will go to the shore zone of Syrian port of Latakia, and the military “warns that all the potentially dangerous targets will be destroyed,” Rudskoy said.
New video published on social media by a Syrian rebel group allegedly shows Turkmen rebels shooting at the two ejected pilots landing on the border between Turkey and Syria.
CNN couldn’t immediately confirm the video’s claim.
Speaking in Turkish language, a man shouts off-camera, “don’t shoot at them” and “capture them alive,” referring to the two Russian pilots.
Heavy gunfire can be heard on the video. The rebels also shout, “God is great!”
Erdogan on Tuesday pointed how Turkey has been hosting 2 million Syrian refugees while European countries have panicked over smaller numbers seeking refuge there.
It’s not possible to resolve terrorism or refugee problems without finding a sustainable solution to Syria, but the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and countries that support it have started a new assault that does not fit with finding a resolution for the area, Erdogan said.
Turkey vehemently opposes the Assad regime. Russia is backing it.
NATO calls emergency meeting
After holding an emergency meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, NATO’s governing body, the North Atlantic Council, said Turkey informed the body about the plane’s downing.
Turkey is a member of NATO, which considers an attack on one of its members to be an attack on them all.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged “calm and de-escalation” to resolve the Turkey-Russia situation, but he noted how Russian forces approach allies’ borders.
“I have previously expressed my concern about the implications of the military actions of the Russian Federation close to NATO’s borders,” the Stoltenberg said. “This highlights the importance of having and respecting arrangements to avoid such incidents in the future.
“As we have repeatedly made clear, we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey,” he added.
NATO continues to follow the matter, Stoltenberg said.
A NATO official told CNN that “when Russian jets violated Turkish airspace a few weeks ago, the Council did meet in an extraordinary session, which resulted in a condemnation of the incursion.”
Not long after the plane was shot down Tuesday morning, spitting fire and diving nose-first toward the ground, Turkey took responsibility. Turkey’s semiofficial outlet, the Anadolu Agency, quoted Turkish presidential sources as saying the Russian Su-24 was “hit within the framework of engagement rules” in Syria’s Bayirbucak area, near the border with Turkey.
Russian officials denied the plane had violated Turkish airspace.
While ISIS does not operate in the area where the plane went down, other rebel groups do, including al Nusra Front – al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria – along with more moderate U.S.-backed groups.
Abu Ibrahim al-Sheghri, the military leader in the 10th coastal brigade and part of the Turkmen Mountain Military Operation Room, told CNN that the body of one of the pilots had been found in the Nibh Almur area of Syria. The brigade is searching for the other pilot in the same area, he said.