Turkish authorities say they have arrested the militant suspected of killing the pilot of a Russian fighter jet, which was shot down by the Turkish military last November, on the Syrian-Turkish border.
The man, identified as Alparslan Celik, was arrested along with 13 other men at a restaurant in the Hatay district of the Aegean coastal city of Izmir on Wednesday, Turkey’s Hurriyet daily newspaper reported on Thursday.
The report added that Celik and his comrades were detained after an unidentified person called the police and said there were men with guns in the restaurant.
Turkish officials were not immediately available to corroborate the report.
On November 24, 2015, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian supersonic and all-weather Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft on the Syrian border.
The crew of the plane ejected and the pilot was killed by fire from the ground. The co-pilot survived, according to the Russian General Staff.
Turkish officials claim that the bomber had violated the country’s airspace. However, Russian authorities strongly reject the allegation and maintain that the bomber was flying over Syria and was struck unprovoked.
Celik, the second-in-command of the Turkmen Coastal Division, said his group killed the Russian pilot, identified as Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov, as he was parachuting to the ground.
Peshkov was posthumously awarded with a Gold Star medal, which serves as Russia’s highest honorary title.
Celik justified his action in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper published on December 27, 2015 by saying it was in retaliation for Russia’s aerial campaign against foreign-backed militant groups in Syria.
The Turkmen militant of the Turkish origin is the son of a former district mayor elected from Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Relations between Moscow and Ankara have soured following the downing incident, with the Kremlin imposing a raft of economic sanctions against Turkey.
Moscow has on occasions demanded that Ankara arrest Celik and try him for the killing of the Russian pilot, and for being a member of a militant group.
Turkey initially did not take the demand into account and the killer of downed Russian pilot gave interviews and traveled freely in Turkey and across the border into crisis-hit Syria before being arrested in Izmir.
Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria, Zakharova, said on Thursday that Moscow will study the reports on Celik’s arrest and closely follow the developments.