IZMIR, Turkey, A rebel fighter who admitted killing a Russian pilot last fall after the aviator ejected from his fighter jet, following a shoot-down by the Turkish air force, has been captured along with more than a dozen others, authorities said Friday.
Alparslan Çelik has been wanted by Moscow since the Sukhoi Su-24 was downed near the region of Kızıldağ on Nov. 24. The plane was shot down by Turkey’s military for violating Turkish airspace, officials said.
After the plane was shot, pilot Oleg Peshkov ejected, but was shot by Çelik as he drifted toward the ground. Another pilot also ejected safely but was whisked away by rescuers after landing.
Çelik, a rebel fighter who has battled President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, later confessed that he was the one who shot Peshkov.
Friday, authorities announced that the militant and 13 others were captured Thursday at a restaurant in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city.
Officials say Çelik often travels to Syria’s Bayırbucak area to fight government troops. He also has accused Russian jets of attacking areas where no suspected terrorists are present.
Moscow’s defense ministry and the surviving pilot, though, said previously that Peshkov’s bomber did not cross into Turkish airspace. Turkey said it did, and that the jet’s crew ignored 10 separate warnings given for five minutes before a Turkish air force F-16 shot it down with an air-to-air missile.
Russian President Vladimir Putin later said the shoot-down was a “stab in the back,” as Turkey was never threatened by the jet’s presence.
Turkish officials confirmed the arrest but refused to specify why Çelik, or the others, were detained.
Russia intervened in Syria’s Civil War in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September, with bombing missions targeting Islamic State strongholds, focusing on northwest Syria, which borders Turkey. On March 14, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russian forces had accomplished their mission in Syria and were withdrawing.