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Syrian Rebels Claim They Shot Down Fighter Jet With A Missile

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Syrian rebels claim they shot down a MiG fighter jet not far from the Syrian-Turkish border on Wednesday. Along with the downing of a military helicopter on Tuesday, it would appear to be one of the first times rebels have successfully used a kind of weapon called a MANPAD, or portable, shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile that can hit a plane in fight.

The development would mark a turning point in the rebels' bid to unseat Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Rebels say the Russian-made MiG fighter jet was shot down Wednesday morning near the town of Daarat Azzah, on the road north of the embattled city of Aleppo.

This video shows the plane bursting into flames in a clear blue sky then falling to the ground. The cameraman can be heard saying, "God is greatest."

Another video shows rebel fighters carry a wounded pilot from the wreckage. Abed Jabar Ogedi, head of the rebel military council in Aleppo, told NPR that a second pilot died.

The first pilot is treated in a field hospital. One medic speaks with an Egyptian accent. Another voice in the background says, "We want him alive."

A later video shows the pilot snoring on a stretcher, as rebels announce they're giving him proper medical treatment.

Then another video was released, this one showing a bearded man in a heavy coat and sunglasses describing how he shot down the plane with a rocket that's resting on his shoulder. He calls it an "Igla," which is the Russian name for an SA-16 or an SA-18.

It's a kind of missile that was used to take out planes during earlier conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Iraq.

The fighter says the rebels seized the weapon when they overtook a Syrian army base earlier this month. Rebels have seized similar weapons before but this is the first time they appear to have used this particular system successfully.

Military analysts say this could show that the rebels are building momentum. Up to this point, the Syrian regime has controlled the skies and this has often given them the upper hand. Hundreds if not thousands of civilians have been killed in air strikes since this summer.

Rebels say they hope the threat of a rebel missile strike will force the regime to think twice before employing the air force now.

Also Wednesday, in a suburb of Syria's capital, Damascus, two massive explosions killed dozens of people.

Syrian state media was quick to cast the attack as suicide bombings launched by al-Qaida-style terrorists. But that claim could not be verified.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. TV footage showed a gruesome scene.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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