A Russian helicopter reportedly on a humanitarian mission and using airspace corridors specifically assigned for humanitarian purposes was shot down over northern Idlib province just south of Aleppo, Syria, by Syrian rebels on Monday morning, killing the three crewmen and two officers aboard, according to Russian defense ministry. A video has surfaced of the downed Russian helicopter as well. It depicts the wreckage of the aircraft and the bodies of the airmen being abused, lending credence to Russian claims that the Syrian rebels are as extreme as the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Guardian reported on August 1 that a Russian helicopter, an Mi-8 transporter, containing five airmen was shot down about 25 miles south of Aleppo, where Syrian rebels had launched an offensive the day before attempting to break the siege there being maintained by Russian-backed pro-Syrian government forces. The deaths of all five Russian soldiers make the incident the most deadly for Russian forces since their arrival late last year, a military move made by President Vladimir Putin to help bolster the floundering regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
A video of the crashed Russian helicopter appeared shortly after the aircraft was shot down. It shows the smoking machinery of the downed helicopter and dozens of people, some armed, milling about. The video captured at least one body from the crash being dragged around, the men reportedly Syrian rebels, chanted “Alahu Akbar.” Another body appeared to be stomped.
Sebastian Usher, BBC News Arab affairs editor, posited that the incident, along with the video, could further ignite emotions in Russia against the Syrian rebels. The Putin regime has made it clear that it sees little distinction between the rebels and ISIS with regard to overall brutality and extremism.
Although BBC News noted that Russian military sources claimed that the helicopter had not been on a humanitarian mission and Syrian rebels have appeared to confirm this, the rebels may have seen the mission as military disguised as a relief mission. Reuters reported that Moscow had announced a week ago that it was providing humanitarian corridors for civilians who wanted to leave in areas under rebel control and Syrian rebels wishing to surrender. But rebel activists and aid groups have been skeptical, insisting that Russian aircraft have been bombing Aleppo and actually causing civilian casualties.
The comparison to ISIS is one with heinous overtones, given that the Islamic State has become infamous for its vicious attacks and executions, including many mass killings of religious minorities, people they suspect as being spies or collaborators with their enemies, or for crimes committed in their so-called caliphate (territory controlled by ISIS). As the Inquisitr has reported, they’ve burned alive young women for refusing to become sex slaves for their jihadists and buried alive their own ISIS colleagues for refusing to stand and do battle against their enemies.
Although atrocities committed by Syrian rebels have been alleged, only a few stories have reached outside the region where a civil war has been raging for years, even before Syria and, later, Russia began targeting ISIS. One incident made international headlines, however, when a small group of Syrian rebels captured a young Palestinian boy, accused him of spying for an enemy pro-Syrian government faction, and beheaded him in the back of a pick-up truck. The act, which was also reported by the Inquisitr, was videotaped and posted on the internet, sparked international outrage and denunciation.
The Syrian rebels were also ostracized by their own group, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, which claimed that the rebels had acted independently, without authorization from their leaders. They also claimed they would administer justice. It was later reported that the rebel who actually performed the decapitation was summarily executed for his act.
With such atrocious incidents, actions tantamount to war criminal behavior, being reported, comparisons between the Syrian rebels, at least some factions, and ISIS extremists can and will be seen as valid.