Turkish pilots who downed Russian jet detained: Erdoğan
ANKARATwo Turkish pilots who downed a Russian fighter jet in November 2015 on the Syrian border have been arrested and officials are looking into whether they have links to the Gülen movement, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during an interview with Al-Jazeera late on July 20.
Underlining that the Russian Su-24 had been warned multiple times for violating Turkish airspace, Erdoğan said the authorities do not know whether the pilots’ decision to down the jet was influenced by their links to Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic scholar said to be behind the failed military coup attempt on July 15.
“We still do not know whether this incident and the links of these people [the pilots] have anything to do with [the downing of the Russian jet]. But these pilots may have links to Pennsylvania,” the president said, referring to the northeastern U.S. state where Gülen has been living since 1999.
“[The pilots] have been detained and the courts will unravel the truth,” Erdoğan told Al-Jazeera. The downing of the Russian jet on Nov. 24, 2015 sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Russia, striking a serious blow to Turkey – especially to its tourism industry which is hugely reliant on Russian tourists. Turkey’s exports to Russia also dropped to $484.6 million, a 61.5 percent decrease compared to the same period of 2015.
Turkey and Russia broke the ice after Erdoğan sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in late June to express his deep sorrow over the downing of the jet, and his wishes to normalize bilateral relations.
With the normalization of ties, Moscow removed some sanctions on trade and restrictions on Russian tourists, though it will continue to impose a visa regime on Turkish nationals.