The Conflict Intelligence Team has analyzed the events of November 24, using open source data – information published in the media and on social networks, as well as other data available on the Internet.
Since the start of the Syrian crisis, Turkey has been actively involved in the conflict between the Syrian government and opposition forces. Many Syrian opposition members live in Turkey; Erdogan’s government equips and trains the fighters of the Free Syrian Army and islamist armed groups. Turkey also attacks the US-supported Syrian Kurds, believing them to be allies of “Kurdistan Workers’ Party”, whichis fighting for Turkish Kurdistan’s independence from Turkey and has been designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey itself and NATO.
Turkey has also announced it’s protection of Syrian Turkmens — a Turkic-speaking ethnic group which has been living on the territory of modern Syria since the 11th century. Turkey supports Syrian Turkmen brigades fighting Assad and the Islamic State and closely cooperating with the Free Syrian Army. Syrian Turkmens are a part of theNational Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, widely considered the most legitimate entity representing the Syrian oppisition.
On June 2012, a Turkish recon plane was downed inside Syria, allegedly with a Russian-supplied Pantsir-S1 anti-air system. Since then, Turkey has been more agressive to Assad forces: in 2013, the Turkish Air Force downed a Syrian Mi-17 helicopter, in 2014 — a MiG-23 figher, in 2015 — a Iranian-made UAV.
In early October 2015, after the RuAF operation in Syria had started, Turkey twice claimed Russian aircraft violated its airspace. On October 16, a Russian UAV was downed and fell inside Turkey On October 17, Turkish prime-minister Ahmat Davutoglu vowed to shoot down military planes violating Turkish airspace.
On November 19, the Turkish MFA summoned the Russian ambassador in Ankara, demanding to stop bombing Syrian Turkmen villages in Latakia near the Turkish border. On November 23, Turkey suggested calling a UN Security Council meeting on these bombings. On the same day, Turkish prime-minister Davutoglu announced Turkey could take measures to protect Turkmens both in Turkey and in Syria.
If the Turkish claims on Russian bombings of Turkmen villages are true, RuAF’s actions constitute a violation of Article 51 of Protocol I to the Geneva Convention regarding attacks on civilians.
Su-24 fall videos
The first video of the Su-24 falling was published by the Turkish Anadolu agency at 9:56 AM local time with a description: “A plane fell near the Syrian border”:
Anadolu journalists working on the Turkish-Syrian border claimed they managed to capture the plane falling by chance.
The video shows a plane, with silhouette resembling a Su-24 with wings unfolded at a straight angle to the plane’s body.
At that moment, it was impossible to conclusively determine the type and nationality of the aircraft, since the SyAAF also has Su-24s. The forested mountains seen in this and another Anadolu video are similar to the landscrape of northern Latakia. The video was published 36 minutes after the plane was show down (as per the Turkish General Staff statement) and 43 minutes before Anadolu sources close to president Erdogan reported the plane’s downing.
Another video of the Su-24 falling was published several hours later. It shows the falling plane turning around several times, making it clear it is indeed a Su-24:
The logo of the channel which published the video (as of writing this article, the original video was unavailable), matches the logo of the “1st Coastal Division” of the Free Syrian Army, which is a recipient of US ATGMS and operates, amomg other places, in northern Latakia.
The Turkish version
According to Turkey’s General Staff, the Russian plane was downed by a Turkish F-16 after numerous warnings of violation of Turkish airspace. According to Turkish radar data, published three hours after the crash, the plane did indee violate Turkish airspace.
A similar account is contained in a document, published by Al Jazeera which allegedly is a Turkish letter to the UN Security Council.
Two planes being invoilved in the incident is consistent with RuAF tactics in Syria: Russian bombers don’t operate alone, only in pairs or in fours.
Should the Turkish letter be authentic, it would imply that the Su-24’s spead was 1.85 km/17 sec., 108.8 m/sec. or 391.7 kph, which is very slow for a fighter jet. While we didn’t manage to find reliable data as to if a Su-24 can fly at this speed, the video of the Su-24 falling shows minimal wing sweep,? characteristic of slow flight speed:
The low speed could be explained by a turn or preparations for bombing.
The specifications of an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, which F-16s are equipped with and which was allegedly used to shoot down the Su-24, list the maximum speed of 850 m/s (or 3,061 kph). If we disregard the Su-24’s speed (several times lower than the missile’s maximum speed) and assume the missile was launched the moment the Su-24 entered Turkish airspace, then for the plane to be hit in Syria (i.e. at least 17 seconds later), the rocket would have to fly 850 m/s * 17 s = 14.45 km. This well fits within Sidewinder range (26 kilometers). Thus, the scenario described in the alleged Turkish letter is technically possible.
Turkish TV aired an alleged record of a Turkish pilot’s warning to the Russian plane (starting at 0:35 here):
A similar warning was allegedly recorded by a radio enthusiast who wished to remain anonymous and published by The Aviationist blog.
The pilot of a Dutch civilian airliner told RTL Nieuws that he saw the Turkish F-16s inside Turkey on his radar and heard “dozens” of warnings to the Russian plane, none of which was answered. However, the Dutch pilot did not see the Russian plane itself.
We have been unable to find any other open-source confirmation of the Turkish version.
The Russian version
Vladimir Putin, while commenting on the downed plane, said,that “[the planes] were carrying out an operation to combat IS. Northern Latakia is a mountainous region where militants are gathered, mostly natives of the Russian Federation. In this sense, they were carrying out their direct task of preventative strikes against terrorists who could return to Russia at any time. These are, of course, people who must be considered international terrorists”.
According to Russia’s MoD map, first noticed by the Bellingcat investigation team, Northern Latakia, where the Su-24 crashed, is controlled not by ISIS but by “other illegal armed groups”, while the closest ISIS positions are dozens of kilometers from the area.
Apart from the aforementioned Free Syrian Army, cooperation with which Putin hasboasted himself, there indeed are Russian Caucasus-born militants in Northern Latakia – such as Ajnad-al-Kavkaz, who recently showed off a captured Russian bulletproof vest and helmet:
However, according to Joanna Paraczyuk, RFERL’s expert on ex-USSR jihadis in Syria, there are mere dozens of Caucasus militants in northern Latakia, which have no connections to ISIS. In comparison, the “1st coastal division” has 2800 fighters, according to Syrian rebel sources.
The Russian Ministry of Defense presented its data 12 hours after the Su-24 ws downed:
Among other things, the Russian MoD claimed that they detected no attemts to contact the Russian plane and that it didn’t violate Turkish airspace.
RT published a recording of the data published by MoD, containing the Su-24’s trajectories on a topographic map and, presumably, on a radar screen (at 0:20):
Twitter user @ETKMKAO noticed a significant diference between Su-24 trajectories on the map and on the radar:
The most significant difference is observed on the stretch of the trajectory closest to the Turkish-Syrian border:
Twitter user @arivero superimposed the Su-24 trajectories on Russian and Turkish radars:
A significant similarity of the trajectories can be observed, however, there are significant discrepancies throughout the trajectories which can be explained by error of the Russian, Turkish or both radars. It is also obvious that the trajectory on the MoD’s topographic map does not match the ones on both radars.
It should be noted that the Russian General Staff representative claimed the Su-24 was destroyed by a close-range heat-guided missile. This description matches the Sidewinder missile we’ve mentioned above.
Thus, Putin’s claims on the Su-24’s targets contradict the Russian MoD’s map data as well as expert claims. The Russin MoD claim that the Su-24 pased significantly to the south of the border are not corroborated by the MoD’s own radar data. On the MoD’s radar trajectory, a violation of Turkish airspace by the Su-24 can be observed, although on a significantly smaller stretch than on the Turkish radar imagery. We have been unable to find any other data supporting or contradicting the Russian version.
The Novaya Gazeta version
Journalist Irek Murtazin claimed in an article in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that Russian planes had to constantly violate Turkish airspace to land at the Hmeimim airbase. The Turkish Air Force allegedly were aware of that but decided to down the Russian plane anyway.
It should be noted that the previous Turkish claim of its airspace being violated by Russian planes refers, as it was mentioned above, to October 5, i.e. 50 days before the Su-24 incident. Then, according to Russian sources, Russia explained the violation of Turkish airspace by navigation error and assured that wouldn’t happen again.
According to Irek Murtazin, the Turkish pilots couldn’t have warned the Su-24 crew during the time it was in Turkish airspace. However, the aforementioned UN Security Council letter states that the warnings were issued to Russian pilots before they entered Turkey’s airspace.
We used Yandex maps to determine that the distance from the southernmost point of the Turkish border to Hmeimim airbase is 48 kiloneters. However, the distance from a more northern point of the Turkish border in a straight line bypassing Turkey’s airspace is 64 kilometers. This casts doubt on Irek Murtazin’s version.
According to Russian MoD’s radar imagery, superimposed on their own map, before entering Turkish airspace the Su-24 went for over 20 kilometers in an almost straight line to the north-west towards the Turkish border. Given that the Su-24’s turn radius is, according to some sources, 5 kilometers at a speed twice faster than calculated using Turkish data, the trajectory presented by the Russian MoD (similar to the one claimed by Turkish military) also does not support Irek Murtazin’s conclusions.
Thus, Irek Murtazin’s version contradicts both official Turkish claims made before the tragedy and Russian and Turkish radar data.
The fate of Russian pilots
Anadolue agency published images where two parachutes can be distinctly seen. The Su-24 crew is 2 people.
— ANADOLU AJANSI (@anadoluajansi) November 24, 2015
A representatives of FSA’s “10 coastal brigade” told that the Russian pilots were shot at by rebels while parachuting. However, judging by the statement published by Associated Press, the 10th brigade representative did not put the responsibility for the pilots’ deaths on its fighters (despite claims by various media).
The 10th coastal brigade’s Youtube channel (it’s logo matches one mentioned on Twitter) has posted a video which allegedly showed the killed Russian pilot. Bellingcat investigation team analyzed the video and found out the pilot’s uniform and equipment matched those spotted earlier at the Hmeimim airbase.
Later, a photo was published, showing the pilot’s body with chest wounds (likely from a large-caliber small arm) and blood stains indicating the pilot got the wounds while he was still alive.
There is no video of shooting at the pilot on the 10th brigade’s channels.
A video interview to a Turkish news agency Dogan, where a man presented as “Turkmen commander” tells about the incident, shows a pickup truck with a large-caliber machine gun and a fighter in a striper sweater which are also present in the video with fighters shooting at pilots:
Thus, it is likely that the pilots were shot at by fighters of one of the Turkmen brigades (a list is given at the end of the page) and one of them was killed.
It should be noted that a Russian blogger Ntv proved in his investigation that the “commander of the Turkmen brigade” in the interview is in fact a citizen of Turkey and a supporter of a Turkish nationalist organization “Grey Wolves“.
According to the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the actions of all parties to the conflict in Syria are regulated, inter alia, by the rules of Customary International Humanitarian Law. Rule 48 of those prohibits attacks on persons parachuting from an aircraft in distress. Thus, the killing of the Russian pilot is a violation of international humanitarian law.
According to Russian official statements, the Su-24’s navigator was saved by a joint Russian-Syrian operation.
Search and rescue operation and the loss of Mi-8 helicopter
Dogan agency reported Russian military helicopters performing a search in the area where the Su-24 was downed around 2 hours after the crash:
— Doğan Haber Ajansı (@dhainternet) November 24, 2015
According to the Russian General Staff’s statement, the operation involved two Mi-8 helicopters. However, a video, published by Izaeli Haarets shows the flight of two helicopters which can be identified by silhouettes and camo patterns as Russian Mi-8 and Mi-24.
Mi-24 (bottom left) and Mi-8 (top right) helicopters during the search and rescue operation.
Russian Mi-8 helicopter at Hmeimim airbase (source)
Russian Mi-24 helicopter at Hmeimim airbase (source)
Compare to photos of similar Syrian government helicopters below:
SyAAF Mi-24 (source)
SyAAF Mi-8 (source)
The helicopters can be seen in use in more detail in a video of a Russian-language pro-Assad resource Anna News. Anna News, just like the Russian MoD, states that one of the helicopters was damaged with ground fire and had to emergency land. We have been unable to find photos or videos proving this information, as well as rebel claims of firing at the flying Russian helcopter.
According to the Russian MoD statement, the helicopter was destroyed by mortar fire after it was forced to land. However, a video published by Syrian rebels shows the helicopter being destroyed with a US-made TOW anti-tank guided missile. The video was originally published on the Youtube channel of the “1st coastal division”, which, as we mentioned above, is one of the recipients of such ATGMs and has earlier used them against government troops.
At the start of the video, you can clearly see the Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters:
Later the video shows a landed helicopter, assembling the TOW, its launch and hit:
Interestingly, the footage of the falling Su-24, the flying planes and the TOW strike (i.e. objects far from the cameraman), the same dark spot can be observed.
Red marks theTOW missile.
Videos published earlier don’t have the spot in the footage of objects far from the cameraman:
Thus, there is a high probability that the video of the falling Su-24 and the TOW hit on the Mi-8 helicopter were filmed by the “1st coastal division” on the same day.
Thus, contrary to MoD claims, the operation involved a Mi-24 and a Mi-8, not two helicopters of the same type, and the Mi-8 was destroyed with a US-made TOW ATGM, not mortar fire.
Turkish claims regarding Syrian Turkmens and the defense of Turkish airspace, as well as downing Syrian aircraft and a Russian UAV, suggest that Turkish actions on Novermber 24 were predictable.
Turkish claims on warning Russian pilots are confirmed by an independent source (Dutch civilian pilot). Claims of the Russian Su-24 crossing into Turkish airspace are confirmed by Turkish and, to some extent, Russian radar data.
The version that Russian planes could not avoid violating Turkish airspace is unlikely to be true.
After it likely crossed the Turkish border, the Russian Su-24 was shot down by a Turkish F-16 and crashed in Syria. Pilots catapulted and were shot at from the ground by the fighters of a Turkmen brigade headed by a Turkish nationalist volunteer fighter. One of the pilots was killed in the shooting, while the other survived and was saved by allies.
Later, the body of one of the pilots was recovered by the fighters of the “10th coastal brigade” of the Free Syrian Army, who ostensibly still have it.
In about 2 hours after the Su-24 was shot down, a search and rescue operation started involving two RuAF transport and assault helicopters (Mi-24 and Mi-8). The Mi-8 landed (allegedly due to shooting from the ground) and was hit and destroyed with a US-made anti-tank guided missile launched by fighters of the “1st coastal division” of the Free Syrian Army. According to Russian claims, a marine was killed during the operation.
To fully find out all circumstances, the facts of Russian bombing of Turkmen villages and a Mi-8 being shot at from the ground need to be verified, as well as president Erdogan’s claim that the Turkish Air Force followed its rules of engagement.
Conclusively determining whether the Russian Su-24 violated Turkish airspace requires analyzing raw data from the Russian and Turkish radars which was the basis of the graphic representations published.
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Special thanks to Twitter user ain92ru for help in preparing this post.