A Russian transport helicopter was shot down in opposition rebel territory in northern Syria yesterday and all five crew and officers onboard were killed, the Kremlin said.
It was the deadliest single incident for the Russians since their entry into Syria’s civil war.
The Mi-8 helicopter was shot down in Idlib province while returning to the Russian airbase on Syria’s coast after delivering humanitarian goods to Aleppo, said the Defence Ministry.
The helicopter had three crew members and two officers deployed with the Russian centre at the Hemeimeem airbase on the Syrian coast.
“From what we know from information provided by the Defence Ministry, all those who were on the helicopter died,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He said the Russians “died heroically because they tried to move the aircraft away so to minimise losses on the ground”.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Idlib province has a strong presence of fighters for the al Qaeda branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front and other groups fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Nusra Front announced last week that it was changing its name and relinquishing ties with al Qaeda in an attempt to undermine a potential US and Russian air campaign against its fighters.
The group is part of a coalition of insurgent groups called Jaish al-Fateh, or Army of Conquest, which has captured most of Idlib.
Meanwhile, IS has called on its members to carry out jihad in Russia in a nine-minute YouTube video.
“Listen Putin, we will come to Russia and will kill you at your homes... Oh brothers, carry out jihad and kill and fight them,” a masked man driving a car in the desert yelled while wagging his finger.
The subtitled video showed footage of armed men attacking armoured vehicles and tents and collecting arms in the desert.
“Breaking into a barrack of the Rejectionist military on the international road south Akashat,” read one subtitle.
It was not immediately clear why Russia would be a target, but Russia and the US are talking about boosting military and intelligence cooperation against IS and al Qaeda in Syria.
IS has called on its supporters to take action with any available weapons targeting countries it has been fighting.
There has been a string of attacks claimed by IS in Europe over the past weeks.
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