The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) is reporting that the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and other rebel groups have captured the crew of a downed Syrian Army helicopter in the northwestern province of Idlib. The chopper crashed in the Jabal al Zawiya area of Idlib, a former stronghold of the US-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front which is now administered by Al Nusrah.
It is not immediately clear how the chopper crashed; Syrian state media is citing technical failures while rebel forces are claiming to have downed it.
There were six crew members aboard the helicopter. Four were captured, one was executed on the spot, and the the fate of the sixth crewman is unknown. Photographs have emerged on social media sites showing the downed helicopter, as well as three of the captives. One photo also purports to show the execution of one of the crew members.
Al Nusrah did release photographs through its official channels (above). Abdullah Muhammad al Muhaysini, one of Al Nusrah’s closest allies in Syria, is also seen in a video with one of the surviving crewmen. Other photos cannot be independently verified but claim to be from the crash scene.
In early Nov. 2014, Al Nusrah and Jund al Aqsa, a jihadist group primarily made up of foreigners, pushed the SRF out of Jabal al Zawiya after clashing with the group. Jamaal Maarouf, the leader of the SRF, was forced to flee as the jihadist forces entered his main headquarters. Before these clashes, the two groups were allies on the battlefield despite US support for the SRF. (FSee LWJ reports Al Nusrah Front forces Western-backed rebel group to flee base in Idlib and Al Nusrah Front, Jund al Aqsa fighters photographed in Syrian Revolutionaries Front stronghold in Idlib)