Report: Russians aboard intercepted Syrian plane were state agents

15 October 2012 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL – Seventeen Russian passengers aboard a Damascus-bound Syrian plane intercepted by Turkey were intelligence officials on their way to Damascus to identify Russian citizens of Chechen origin fighting against Syrian government forces alongside opposition forces, the Yenişafak daily reported on Sunday.

A Syrian Air Airbus A320 travelling from Moscow to Syria’s capital was intercepted by F16 jets as it entered Turkish airspace and escorted to Ankara’s Esenboğa Airport on Wednesday after Turkey received intelligence that it was carrying military supplies destined for Syria’s defense ministry. Some of the plane’s cargo was seized in Turkey before it was allowed to continue its trip. Officials gave no details regarding what was confiscated, saying investigations were underway. The plane was carrying about 30 passengers, including the 17 Russians.

According to the report, those Russians were intelligence officials from the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s primary domestic intelligence agency, and they did not undergo a security check in Ankara because they were carrying diplomatic passports. Those intelligence officials were headed to Damascus to determine the identities of some 300 Chechen Russian citizens who, according to the FSB, are fighting side by side with opposition forces to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The report also said that Turkey seized 400 kilograms of military equipment which included communications equipment and parts that could be used in missiles. An investigation of the seized cargo is being carried out by ASELSAN and ROKETSAN, defense industry giants that produce technology for the Turkish military.