Russian Military Helicopter Is Shot Down in Syria, Killing 5

A Russian military transport helicopter was shot down on Monday in the Syrian province of Idlib, killing the three crew members and two officers on board in the deadliest episode for the Russian military since it intervened in the country, Russian officials said.

 

The Mi-8 helicopter was hit by ground fire as it returned to Khmeimim Air Base from a mission to the embattled city of Aleppo, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Video footage, posted on Facebook by antigovernment activists shortly before the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the attack, showed two burned bodies on the sand, about 300 feet from what appeared to be a helicopter in flames.

 

In the video, a number of men, some of them armed, cheered around the bodies, shouting “God is great” in Arabic. One of them jumped on a body, joyfully.

 

A set of images, also released online, showed two Russian drivers’ licenses — one belonging to a young woman, another to a young man — and a laminated Orthodox icon of God. It was not possible to establish the names of the people pictured on the licenses.

Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, confirmed that all those on board had been killed, according to the Tass state news agency, and he expressed condolences to the victims’ families.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which opposes the Syrian government and tracks the conflict from Britain through contacts in Syria, said the helicopter had crashed near the village of Saraqib in Idlib Province.

The aircraft had recently delivered aid to two Shiite villages nearby that have long been surrounded by Sunni rebels, the group said.

 

None of Syria’s many rebel groups immediately claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter. But at a news briefing on Monday, Lt. Gen. Sergei F. Rudskoi, a senior member of the Russian general staff, said it had been shot down over territory controlled by the Nusra Front and “the so-called moderate opposition.” He called the attack a “terrorist act.”

 

Last week, Russia said it had established several humanitarian passages in Aleppo to let civilians and insurgents leave the area. So far, 324 civilians and 82 militants have left the city through them, General Rudskoi said. (Opposition groups in Syria have disputed these claims.)

 

Citing the need to fight terrorists in faraway territories before they arrived in Russia, Mr. Putin began a military operation in Syria at the end of September in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

He ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria in March, but military operations continued, although at a lower intensity.

 

A number of similar episodes have occurred over the course of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war.

 

Militants belonging to the Islamic State shot down a Syrian Mi-25 helicopter in July, killing two Russian crew members on board.

 

A Russian fighter jet was shot down by Turkey in November, with the captain killed by insurgents’ ground fire as he descended after ejecting from the plane. Another helicopter was shot down during the rescue mission, killing a crew member.

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