The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based activist group, says former Iraqi pilots are training Islamist State extremists to fly captured fighter jets. The report has been picked up by BBC News and Reuters, though both outlets cautioned the group's account is unconfirmed.
In this undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, fighters from the Islamic State group march in Raqqa, Syria. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
The [Islamic State], which has seized swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, has been flying the planes over the captured al-Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report and U.S. Central Command said it was not aware of Islamic State flying jets in Syria.
U.S-led forces are bombing Islamic State bases in Syria and Iraq. The group has regularly used weaponry captured from the Syrian and Iraqi armies and has overrun several military bases but, if the report is confirmed, this would be the first time it has been able to pilot warplanes.
"They have trainers, Iraqi officers who were pilots before for (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein," Abdulrahman said.
Abdulrahman continued to claim that "people saw the flights, they went up many times from the airport and they are flying in the skies outside the airport and coming back."
The witnesses said the flights were brief -- only around 10 minutes -- and they were flying at low altitudes.
U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said they are "not aware of ISIL conducting any flight operations in Syria or elsewhere," though they are keeping a "close eye" on the situation.
Read the full story at Reuters.