U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, the Free Syrian Army, are claiming to have taken out a Russian rescue helicopter with a TOW anti-tank missile, according to several reports. The aircraft was said to be near the crash site of the Russian fighter jet shot down by Turkey.
Video footage purporting to show the moment the downed helicopter was destroyed surfaced online:
As The Telegraph points out, the strike would have serious implications for the U.S. government if confirmed:
If the strike is confirmed, the TOW missile was most likely supplied through the same US and Turkey-backed logistics programme that has reportedly been supplying Alwiya al-Ashar.
The rebels' usage of these American-made TOW missiles has increased over 800 per cent since Russia began air strikes against them at the end of September, slowing regime offensives across the country by destroying dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles.
Russia's military general staff said Tuesday that one of the pilots of the Su-24 warplane that was shot down by Turkey was killed by groundfire as he parachuted from his crippled plane.
Russian news agencies reported the statement Tuesday by general staff spokesman Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, who also confirmed that rebels in Syria fired on a Russian helicopter that was searching for the two pilots of the Su-24.
He said that shooting killed one crew member on the Mi-8 helicopter and forced it to land in neutral territory. The rest of the crew was evacuated. It wasn't immediately clear if the helicopter destroyed in the video was the same aircraft.
Rudskoi also said that Russian radar data showed that Turkish warplanes had violated Syrian airspace in the course of shooting down the Russian plane.
The latest developments sparked fears and had "WWIII" trending on Twitter Tuesday.
If RUS retaliates & NATO Ally Turkey invokes Article 5, WWIII has officially begun & we'd have worst CIC to wage it https://t.co/4mH7ZP50F1— F*ck [X]ichigan (@ArizonaLuke) November 24, 2015
We're effectively in WWIII, so we need a President with a profoundly shallow grasp of foreign policy, a short temper, and a thin skin.— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) November 24, 2015
WWIII, escalating. RT "Putin: Downing Of Jet A 'Stab In The Back'" https://t.co/KwkuDqxDC2— Monica Crowley (@MonicaCrowley) November 24, 2015
Oh God. A thing with Turkey happened two days prior to Thanksgiving. Twitter is going to be unbearable. Also maybe WWIII— Ride It Down (@Beer__Wolf) November 24, 2015
Even prior to reports of the downed Russian rescue helicopter, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned there would be "serious consequences" for the deadly international incident.
Turkey claimed it fired on the Russian Su-24 after pilots ignored several warnings that it was nearing, then intruding, into Turkish airspace.
Rebels said they fired at the two parachuting pilots as they descended, and that one had died. A rebel spokesman said they would consider releasing the body in exchange for prisoners held by Syria. The fate of the second pilot was not immediately known.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.