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May 24, 11:28 AM EDT

Syrian helicopter crashes; activists say downed by militants


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BEIRUT (AP) -- A Syrian military helicopter crashed Sunday at the northern air base of Kweiras, killing all of its crew, state TV said, as an activist group said it was shot down by Islamic State militants.

The TV report quoted an unnamed military official as saying that the helicopter crashed Sunday as a result of a technical problem while taking off. The report did not say how many crew members were onboard at the time of the crash.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State militants who have been laying siege to the base for months shot down the helicopter. The Observatory said one crew member was killed while the fate of the others remained unclear.

Kweiras military air base is in the northern province of Aleppo and is close to the town of al-Bab, which is held by the Islamic State group.

The Islamic State group posted a statement on a militant website claiming responsibility for downing the Syrian helicopter. The statement said "soldiers of the caliphate around the Kweiras air base shot down the helicopter at dawn with anti-aircraft guns."

It said all on board the helicopter were killed including two colonels.

Syrian rebels have shot down helicopters in the past.

Meanwhile in Damascus, a bomb exploded Sunday morning near the city center killing a brigadier general and six of his bodyguards, the Observatory said. It added that the attack was claimed by the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group.

The Damascus media center identified the officer as Brig. Gen. Bassam Mehanna al-Ali.

State news agency SANA reported that a bomb exploded in the area without giving further details.

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