AMMAN (Reuters) - A Syrian air force pilot defected to Jordan on Thursday, landing his MiG-21 jet fighter at a military airbase and asking for political asylum, Jordanian officials said.
The defection is first involving an aircraft since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad although thousands of soldiers have deserted from the Syrian army, whose ranks are mostly filled by members of the Sunni Muslim majority.
“He (the pilot) requested political asylum in Jordan. He is being debriefed at the moment,” Jordanian Minister of State for Information Samih al-Maaytah told Reuters.
A Jordanian security source said the pilot flew from al-Dumair military airport northeast of Damascus and landed at the at King Hussein Airbase at 11 a.m. (4:00 a.m. EDT).
King Hussein Airbase, named after the country’s late monarch, is a military airport situated near the border with Syria, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the capital Amman.
Syrian state television named the pilot as Colonel Hassan Hamada and said communications were lost with his plane at 10:34 a.m. while he was on a training mission near the border with Jordan.
A Jordanian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the defection as “difficult to handle”, referring to Amman’s nervousness over possible a Syrian military reaction after months of border tension between the two countries, ignited by thousands of Syrians fleeing a crackdown on the revolt to Jordan.
Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Anghus MacSwan