The Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV network claimed on Monday that it obtained Syrian intelligence documents purporting that the Turkish pilots, Capt. Gökhan Ertan and Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy, crashed their plane off the Syrian coast, survived, but later met their deaths at Syrian hands. Then, Syrian military figures allegedly returned the bodies to the crash site to make it look like they died in the accident.
“Two Turkish pilots were captured by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence after their jet was shot down in coordination with the Russian naval base in Tartus,” the Saudi-owned network stated.
Al-Arabiya also claimed that the Russians advised the Syrians to execute the Turkish officers.
“Based on information and guidance from the Russian leadership, there was a need to eliminate the two Turkish pilots detained by Syria's Special Operations Unit in a natural way and their bodies need to be returned to the crash site in international waters,” the document allegedly stated.
However, Turkey's Zaman newspaper reported that Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz denied the allegations.
“There is disinformation regarding the issue,” he told reporters.
The chief adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also nixed the report.
“It is obvious that the documents Al Arabiya published are fabricated,” said Ibrahim Kalın on his Twitter account.
In Washington, Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, also dismissed the report.
“There is no such information in our sources. The claims look like a big conspiracy theory,” she said.
The most vitriolic denials came from Moscow. A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukashevich called the reports “utter nonsense” and “dangerous fantasies.”
He added that Arab media (outside of Syria) often printed lies and distortions regarding the situation in Syria.
Azer Mürseliyev, editor-in-chief of Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, suggested a conspiracy was behind the reports.
He told Turkey’s Cihan news agency that the claims are part of a plot to create dissension between Russia and Turkey.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency that a false report like this could be used to goad NATO into mounting a military campaign in Syria, as they did in Libya.
“In our contacts with NATO partners ... we call upon them not to search for pretexts to carry out a military scenario or initiatives like humanitarian corridors and buffer zones,” he said.
The circumstances of the June 22 incident remain mysterious.
Syria claimed at the time that the Turkish F-4 reconnaissance jet crashed in waters off Syria’s coast, with the pilot and navigator dying upon impact. Turkey accused Damascus of shooting down the aircraft (which the Syrians initially denied), but not specifically of killing the pilots.
Syria subsequently admitted it did shoot down the jet, but said that it was a mistake, and apologized.
Once close allies, Turkey and Syria have become estranged since President Bashar al Assad commenced a brutal crackdown on opposition forces and rebels in his country.
Russia (along with China and Iran) remains one of Syria’s few allies.