Syrian pilot Colonel Hassan Hamada, 44, went AWOL on Thursday and touched down in Jordan to request political asylum. We say “touched down” because he fled the country in his MiG-21 fighter plane.
Hamada landed at the King Hussein military air base 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Amman where he immediately requested asylum.
Jordanian officials tell Reuters:
“The cabinet has decided to grant the Syrian pilot political asylum upon his request.”
As expected the Syrian defense ministry called the pilot a “traitor to his country and his military honor.”
Officials in Syria have been in contact with Jordanian officials to retrieve the aircraft. The country also says it plans to retrieve the pilot and punish him.
Before fleeing the country Hamada helped his family flee to Turkey.
While thousands of soldiers have deserted their posts in the last 15 months this was the first defection that included the theft of a fighter plane.
Hamada says he decided to flee when his hometown of Kfar Takharim came under artillery and helicopter fire over the last several days.
The defection and resulting political asylum will likely put a strain on already intense tied between Jordan and Syria. As violence has escalated thousands of Syrians have found refuge in Jordan.
Jordanian officials tell the Associated Presss that they will allow Hamada to stay in the country on “humanitarian grounds” since a return to Syrian would likely result in torture, death or both.
The defection is specifically a slap in the face because the air force has long been considered President Bashar al-Assad’s most loyal military unit.