An Islamist group in Syria has claimed responsibility for a military plane crash that killed dozens of Russian military personnel this week, according to a statement published in a Lebanese newspaper.
The Arabic-language daily Ad-Diyar on March 7 published a statement from the group Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), which has been fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the six-year civil war in Syria, saying its fighters had shot the plane down.
Jaish al-Islam is one of the main rebel groups fighting in the enclave of eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, where an offensive by Syrian government forces and their allies has killed hundreds of people since February 18.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on March 6 that 39 of its personnel, including 33 passengers and six crew members, died when an An-26 transport plane crashed while landing at Russia's air base near the coastal city of Latakia.
The ministry said a major general was among the dead.
Officials said the crash was "most likely caused by a technical fault," adding that there were no indications the plane came under fire.
Russia's Investigative Committee announced it had opened a criminal case into the crash, saying investigators would look into suggestions that flight safety rules had been flouted.
Russia has given Assad's government crucial support throughout the Syrian conflict, which began with a government crackdown on peaceful protests.
Moscow helped turn the tide of the conflict in Assad's favor by launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and by stepping up its military presence on the ground.
Russian officials previously said that more than 40 Russian military personnel had died in Syria since Moscow launched its air campaign, in many cases using Hmemim as a base.
Russia was also said to have lost nine military aircraft in Syria since it entered that country's civil war.
Russia's air base and its naval facility in western Syria have recently been under attack.