Turkey seized Wednesday night a suspicious cargo aboard a Syrian airliner intercepted during its flight between Moscow and Damascus, Ankara announced.
"There is an illegal cargo on board of the aircraft that should have been reported" in accordance with the regulation of civil aviation, said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who was quoted by the Anatolia news agency. "There are elements that can be described as doubtful," the minister said without giving details.
The Syrian plane, an Airbus A-320, was escorted Wednesday by two Turkish F4 planes and forced it to land at the Ankara's airport of -Esenboga for security checks, as the Turkish authorities were suspecting the presence of weapons and ammunition on board.
According to NTV news channel, the cargo could be missile parts or communications equipment for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.The airliner was carrying 35 passengers, including 17 Russians, according to Interfax news agency.
It was allowed to take off again from Ankara on 11:30 p.m. GMT, nine hours after being caught with 35 passengers, reported the Anatolia news agency. "In the current situation, the incident should not affect the Turkish-Russian relations," Davutoglu stated early evening.
"According to initial information, which are yet to be verified, there are 17 Russian citizens, including children, on board of the plane," stated a source in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noting that Russian diplomats had been sent to the Ankara airport to defend their interests.
"The Russian Embassy in Turkey has immediately sent to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs a demand for explanations, and posed the question about the fate of Russian citizens aboard the regular Moscow-Damascus" flight, added the source.According to Itar-Tass news agency, which quoted the spokesman of the Russian Embassy in Ankara, Igor Mitiakov, Russian diplomats had visited Ankara airport but were not allowed to see the Russian passengers. "Diplomats have joined some of them by phone, and try to gain access," stated this source.
After intercepting the Syrian Airbus, Ankara had asked Turkish airlines to avoid Syrian airspace in fear of possible reprisals, reported NTV. This warning resulted in a short interruption of air traffic and changing course.