Reuters International

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court has decided there is insufficient evidence to prosecute a man suspected of killing a Russian air force pilot after his plane was shot down by a Turkish jet near the Syrian-Turkish border last November, the man's lawyer said on Tuesday.

Russian defence officials said at the time that the pilot had managed to eject from his Su-24 plane only to be killed by ground fire from militants inside Syria. His navigator survived but a Russian marine was killed during the rescue mission.

Alparslan Celik, who was fighting with a Turkish-backed Turkmen brigade opposing government forces in northern Syria at the time, was detained at the end of March in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir on unrelated charges.

But his lawyer said Celik, who is still in custody, had also been questioned by a prosecutor about his alleged role in the Russian pilot's death.

"Having looked at the evidence both in favour and against, the prosecutor decided there were no grounds for prosecution," Murat Ustundag, one of Celik's lawyers, told Reuters by phone.

Celik is still being held as part of a separate investigation into unauthorised weapons possession, he said.

A deputy prosecutor in the court in Izmir was not available to comment.

There had been hopes that Celik's detention might help ease strained relations with Russia, which demanded his arrest after he publicly admitted being among a group of fighters who shot the Russian pilot after he ejected from his stricken plane.

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.

(Reporting by Akin Aytekin; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Edciting by Richard Balmforth)

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