UPDATE 11:33 a.m. EST: According to a Turkish government official, the two Russian pilots downed by Turkey are believed to be alive. This contradicts reports from Doğan news agency, which claim Turkmen rebels killed two Russian pilots after they auto-ejected.
BEIRUT -- Parachutes were seen deploying from the flaming mass of metal, which was all that remained of a Russian Su-24 fighter jet after Turkey shot the plane down Tuesday. Two pilots reportedly ejected from the jet on the border between Syria and Turkey.
Russia has launched a search and rescue operation for the pilots, but their fate may already be decided. One pilot was reportedly killed in the Syrian countryside and a Syrian rebel group has claimed to have captured the other. Two videos were released separately Tuesday morning from different Syrian rebel groups claiming to have the pilots in their custody.
Meanwhile, NATO announced it would hold an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss Turkey's actions in downing the Russian jet, according to reports.
— MOHAMMED (@m_mondass) November 24, 2015
International Business Times has not yet been able to confirm the authenticity of either video disseminated over social media.
Alwiya al-Ashar (the Tenth brigade), a Syrian rebel troop that’s part of the umbrella group Free Syrian Army (FSA), published a video on social media claiming to show the capture of one Russian pilot but added, in a statement posted on its Facebook page, that they did not have the second pilot.
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Center in Doha, Qatar, posted on his Twitter feed that the troop has “logistical links to the US-Saudi-Turkey backed” Müşterek Operasyon Merkezi room, created to oversee the CIA’s train-and-equip program for moderate rebels.
A separate video circulated on social media channels from the Brigade of Turkmen Mountain, a Turkmen group aligned with the FSA, trained by Turkish special forces, claiming to have the body of the second Russian pilot in the northern countryside of Latakia, a coastal city and a Syrian regime stronghold. The gruesome video purportedly shows that the pilot is dead. The rebel group said he was dead upon landing.
Fighting between Turkmen brigades and forces loyal to the Syrian regime was ongoing in the Latakia countryside before the plane was shot down, and continued after the videos of the alleged pilots were released. Russian aerial forces have been hitting rebels groups in the border area between Syria and Turkey for weeks, including the Turkmen brigades, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
A Turkish official said the downing of the jet was not an action against any specific country but a step to defend Turkey’s sovereignty. Turkey said it gave repeated warnings to the Russian pilots that they were about to enter Turkish airspace and would be shot down if the plane crossed over. Russia said the plane never left Syrian airspace. Both sides say they have evidence to support their claims.