Tensions mount: US backed Free Syrian Army reportedly shoots down Russian rescue helicopter

Following NATO ally Turkey shooting down a Russian aircraft it said violated its airspace, video shared online showed a Russian rescue helicopter purportedly being shot out of the sky by U.S. backed Free Syrian Army shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

Another video showed ethnically Turkish rebels celebrating at the discovery of the dead body of one of the Russian pilots.

Turkey claimed it gave 10 warnings to the Russian jet before firing on it while reports show the aircraft might have been in Turkish airspace for about 30 seconds Tuesday, CNN reported.

“The Russian plane was warned numerous times beforehand and was subsequently dealt with because it “did not answer our warning,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“This does not indicate any animosity,” Erdogan said.

President Obama stood firmly behind Turkey’s decision to shoot down the Russian aircraft.

“This points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations,” he said at a press conference Tuesday alongside French President François Hollande. “They are operating very close to a Turkish border, and they are going after moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries.”

“Turkey like every country has the right to defend its territory and its airspace,” he added.

NATO converged an emergency meeting Tuesday as the escalation of tensions between Russia and Turkey could be significant for the other NATO nations, like the U.S., because an attack on one NATO nation amounts to an attack on them all.

“I have previously expressed my concern about the implications of the military actions of the Russian Federation close to NATO’s borders,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “This highlights the importance of having and respecting arrangements to avoid such incidents in the future.

“As we have repeatedly made clear, we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey,” he continued.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile warned of serious consequences.

“This incident stands out against the usual fight against terrorism. Our troops are fighting heroically against terrorists, risking their lives. But the loss we suffered today came from a stab in the back delivered by accomplices of the terrorists,” he said.

“The plane fell on Syrian territory 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the Turkish border. It was flying 1 kilometer away from the Turkish border when it was attacked. In any case, neither our pilots nor our jet posed any threat to Turkey. That is obvious. They were carrying out an operation fighting against ISIL in Northern Latakia, Putin added.

During a search and rescue mission to search for the pilots of the downed aircraft, one of whom died, a Russian MI-8 helicopter was shot down by U.S. backed Syrian rebels.

“The helicopter was destroyed by mortar fire conducted from the territory controlled by illegal, armed groups,” Russian Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy said.

He warned that future airstrikes “will be carried out only under cover of fighter aircraft” and that Russian cruiser Moskva will head to Syrian port of Latakia adding that “all the potentially dangerous targets will be destroyed,”

Watch a CNN report on the incidents below.

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Carmine Sabia

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