Two Russia pilots, who ejected after the Su-24 bomber they were flying was shot down by Turkish jets, are believed to be held hostage by Syrian rebels. Turkish officials have claimed that they were in negotiations with Syrian rebel groups to seek their release.
According to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News, security sources in Ankara said that both pilots were being held captive by Syrian rebels, who are fighting against President Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) is reportedly in contact with the captors.
The latest developments are contradictory to earlier reports, which suggested that both pilots had died on landing. The Syrian Turkmen Brigade had said that the Russian pilots were shot mid-air, as they descended with their parachutes.
"We have caught the pilots and both of them are dead. All our friends, all of us fired into the air. They died when they were in the air," said deputy commander of the Turkmen rebel group, Alpaslan Celik. While, Russia's General Staff's spokesperson earlier admitted that one of the pilots was killed on the ground.
Russia started pounding targets in Syria in support of the Damascus regime. Although Moscow claimed its airstrikes were aimed at uprooting Islamic State (Isis) in the region, the West has expressed serious concern whether the bombardment destroyed anti-Assad targets.
Tensions remain high after Turkish F-16 fighters jets shot down the Russian warplane. Moscow used sharp words to condemn Turkey's action, while Ankara found backing from Nato and the US.
In the backdrop of the months-long friction between Russia and the West, and the escalating conflict in the Middle East, the latest action by Turkey is bound to worsen the situation in the region. With Russian President Vladimir Putin pledging "significant consequences" for Turkey's act, reports claim that this could snowball into World War III.