Two Turkish pilots who played a role in the downing of a Russian jet in November are in custody over the July 15 failed coup in Turkey, a Turkish official said.
The downing of the Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border last November sparked an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Russia, which ended last month when the two countries agreed to restore ties.
“Two pilots who were part of the operation to down the Russian Su-24 in November 2015 are in custody,” a Turkish official told AFP late on Monday.
When asked about the issue by the Turkish media, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said there were reports of the pilots being detained but they were “yet to be confirmed”.
The official talking to AFP insisted that the military pilots have been arrested over links to the coup and not because of the attack on the Russian plane.
But, Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek argued that the pilots, who are allegedly supporters of the US-based Muslim cleric Fettullah Gulen, may have shot the Russian plane as part of a conspiracy to harm the Turkish government.
The Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blame Gulen’s movement, which they refer to as the “parallel state”, and his supporters within the army for trying to stage the failed coup.
Talking to CNN Turk in the aftermath of the coup attempt, Gokcek said: “The parallels are responsible for the tension between Russia and us. That incident [the downing of the Russian plane] was orchestrated by a pilot who belongs to the parallel state.
“I say this one hundred percent. We were not voicing this before, we were gulping this down,” he said.
“But, now I say this, as Melih Gokcek, these rascals caused the rift between Russia and us.
“Why? Because they wanted to isolate us in world politics. Yesterday I had a guest from Russia, an adviser for Putin. He agrees with me.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 17, describing the attempted coup as unacceptable and voicing hope for a speedy return to stability.
The two men are expected to meet in the first week of August, in their first face-to-face meeting since the rapprochement.
A faction in the Turkish military attempted to stage a coup late on Friday night. In dramatic scenes, tanks blocked bridges in Istanbul, jets were seen in the skies over at least two cities, and the parliament and the headquarters of the intelligence services were strafed with gunfire from attack helicopters.
At least 290 people were killed and more than 1,400 wounded. Erdogan has blamed his former ally who has since become a bitter rival, Fethullah Gulen, for the attempt.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Monday that more than 7,500 suspects had been detained in connection to the coup attempt.