ISTANBUL A man suspected of killing a Russian pilot whose plane was shot down by a Turkish jet near the Syrian border in November has been detained over an unrelated incident, Turkey's Dogan news agency said on Friday.
Authorities arrested Alparslan Celik, a fighter with a Turkish-backed Turkmen brigade opposing government forces in northern Syria, in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir on Thursday along with 13 other people.
His detention could be a step towards easing strained relations with Russia, which had demanded Celik's arrest after he publicly admitted being among a group of fighters who shot the Russian pilot as he parachuted out of his stricken plane.
Moscow called the downing of the plane a pre-planned provocation and retaliated with economic sanctions, also urging Turkish authorities to try Celik and his associates for murder.
But Dogan cited police sources as saying they had no information about claims that Celik killed the pilot and that his detention was related to a previous conviction -- whose nature the agency did not specify -- under which he was supposed to serve 30 months in jail.
Izmir police were unable to provide further information about Celik's arrest.
The agency said he was questioned by a prosecutor about his alleged role in the Russian pilot's death, but his lawyer argued the question was irrelevant as it was not related to the reason for his arrest. It said Celik and the rest of the group had been detained after police were called because they were carrying weapons.
Attempts by Reuters on Friday to reach government officials for comment were not successful.
Speaking to reporters near the Syrian village of Yamadi on Nov. 24, the day the Russian jet was downed, Celik said he and other fighters opened fire as the pilot and his navigator parachuted to the ground.
Turkey says it shot down the jet in its air space after it ignored repeated warnings. Russia says it was flying over Syria and the strike was unprovoked.
(Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and John Stonestreet)
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Updated Date: Apr 02, 2016 03:46 AM