Turkey reopens probe into suspected killer of Russian pilot

© Komutan Alparslan ÇELİK
An investigation has been reopened into the main suspect in the death of the Russian pilot shot down by Turkey over Syria in November. The probe’s new focus is the death of a member of the rescue team that tried to save the crew of the downed jet. 

The information comes from the Chief Prosecutor’s Office in Izmir, Turkey, as cited by Hurriyet Daily news.

The first court hearing took place Monday, and a travel ban was imposed on the suspect, Alparslan Celik, till the end of the trial.

In May, prosecutors dropped the charges against Celik, who boasted last November of shooting down the pilot of a Russian Su-24 along with his fellow Turkmen fighters. Celik later retracted his words.

The suspect was cleared of the charges pertaining to the death of the Russian pilot by the authorities due to “insufficient evidence,” following his detention on March 31. In his defense, Celik, a Turkish citizen, claimed that the Russian serviceman could have been killed by another terrorist group, saying that he “definitely” did not shoot the pilot.

The Russian officer, Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov, was shot dead on November 24, 2015, as he, alongside his copilot, parachuted to the ground after their Su-24 bomber had been downed by a Turkish F-16 for allegedly violating Turkey’s airspace.

Russia denied the charge, saying the plane never crossed into Turkey. The incident soured Russian-Turkish relations, with Moscow demanding that Celik face justice and that Turkey apologize.

Over the weekend, the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in Izmir province reopened the case into Celik’s actions that day, after new evidence was uncovered.

Celik is now suspected of destroying one of two Mi-8 helicopters that were taking part in the search and rescue operation for the pilots of the downed Russian Su-24. A Russian Marine was killed in the incident, while the rest of the crew and servicemen on board were evacuated to Russia’s Khmeimim airbase in Syria.

“It was found out that there was another [Russian] pilot that lost his life and that fire was opened on a Russian rescue helicopter which arrived to rescue the pilots and the helicopter crashed as a result.

Even though the suspect Alparslan Celik stated that he tried to calm the situation but the people around him didn’t follow his orders, the fact that fire was opened on the rescue helicopter steadily opens up the defense to be re-investigated,” a statement by the Prosecutor’s Office explained.

“The insistence on firing on the rescue helicopter after the two pilots reached the ground made it necessary for the re-evaluation of the suspect Alparslan Celik’s defense,” the statement added.

Russia has not yet officially reacted to the news of the reopened investigation.

Celik’s defense team seemed puzzled following the announcement of the renewed investigation.

“I don’t think that the helicopter issue will be related to my client. He feels at ease and we also feel at ease. We thought that the file was closed and we didn’t know about the new developments,” Celik’s lawyer, Murat Üstündağ, told Hürriyet Daily News.

“When we gave our testimony on the Russian pilot case, no questions were asked about the downed helicopter. Questions were asked only on the Russian pilot that jumped out of the plane. But the helicopter issue wasn’t involved,” Üstündağ added.