General Muhammed Ahmed Faris, a high-ranking Syrian Air Force official and decorated astronaut, crossed over to Turkey on Sunday in the latest high-profile military defection from the Assad regime. He had reportedly tried to escape and defect three times before.
According to the Turkish Andalou News Agency, General Faris arrived in Aleppo on Sunday and met with the commanders of the Free Syrian Army before crossing the border to Turkey.
“I am ready to provide assistance to the Free Syrian Army,” he was quoted as saying. “We are with you all the way.”
Hürriyet Daily News reported that it was the fourth defection attempt by the former astronaut.
Faris was born in 1951 in Aleppo and was a colonel in the Syrian Air Force when he was tapped to participate in a joint Soviet-Syrian space mission. In July 1987 he became the first Syrian and the second Arab in space, spending almost eight days in orbit on the Soviet Mir space station.