ANKARA, Turkey, July 19 (UPI) — Two Turkish military pilots who shot down a Russian Su-24M bomber over Syria have been arrested in connection with the failed coup last week, the country’s justice minister said Tuesday.
“The pilots that downed the Russian jet were arrested,” Haberturk TV channel quoted Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag.
They are among several thousand Turks who have been detained since the failed coup Friday.
The day after the coup attempt, the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, said on CNN Turk the pilots were involved in the uprising. Specifically, he said one of the pilots belonged to a secret “parallel state” organization allegedly headed by cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the United States.
Gokcek told CNN Turk that “our relations with Russia have been spoiled by these villains.”
Gulen has denied he was involved in the failed coup.
On Nov. 24, a Russian Su-24M frontline bomber was downed into Syrian territory by a Turkish air-to-air missile. One of the Russian pilots, Lt. Col. Oleg Peshkov, was killed by ground fire as he parachuted from the plane and the other pilot was rescued and taken to a Russian base.
Turkey defended its action, saying it repeatedly told the Russia pilots they were entering Turkey’s airspace. Russia’s Defense Ministry said “there was no violation of Turkey’s airspace.”
Because of no apology from Turkey, Russia instituted restrictive economic measures against Turkey.
On June 27, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized for the death of the Russian pilot in a formal letter to Putin. Three days later, President Vladimir Putin partially lifted restrictions on Russians’ travel to Turkey after a phone conversation with Erdogan.