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Turkey frees suspect in killing of Russian pilot

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Turkish militant Alparslan Celik (front)

Turkish authorities say they have dropped all charges against a militant suspected of killing a Russian pilot whose fighter jet was shot down on the Syrian border last November.

Security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a public prosecutor in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir decided to withdraw charges against the man, identified as Alparslan Celik, on Monday.

The prosecutor reportedly made the decision after examining “video evidence” in which Celik can purportedly be seen telling armed men shooting at the Russian pilot not to do so.

On November 24, 2015, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft on the Syrian border. Turkish officials claimed that the bomber had violated the country’s airspace. Russia categorically denied the Turkish claim.

The crew of the plane ejected and one of the pilots was killed by fire from the ground as he was parachuting down. The other pilot was rescued.

Celik was arrested along with 13 other men at a restaurant in the Karabaglar district of the southern Turkish province of Hatay on March 31. The ultra-nationalist and his comrades were detained after an unidentified person called the police and said there were men with guns in the restaurant.

A Russian jet goes down in flames in northern Syria after being shot down by Turkish fighter jets, November 24, 2015. (Photo by Reuters)

Celik, the second-in-command of the so-called Turkmen Coastal Division, had previously said his group killed the Russian pilot, identified as Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov.

Peshkov was posthumously awarded with a Gold Star medal, which serves as Russia’s highest honorary title.

In an interview with Hurriyet newspaper published on December 27, 2015, Celik had said the killing was in retaliation for Russia’s aerial campaign against foreign-backed militant groups in Syria.

The Turkmen militant of the Turkish origin is the son of a former district mayor elected from Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Relations between Moscow and Ankara soured following the downing incident, with the Kremlin imposing a raft of economic sanctions against Turkey.

Moscow has on occasions demanded that Ankara arrest Celik and try him for the killing of the Russian pilot and for membership in a militant group.

Ankara initially ignored the demand, and Celik freely gave interviews and traveled in Turkey and across the border into crisis-hit Syria before being arrested in Izmir. With the decision on Monday, he has once again been freed.

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