(Reuters) – Iraqi pilots who have joined Islamic State in Syria are training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets, a group monitoring the war said on Friday, saying it was the first time that the militant group had taken to the air.

A jet from the U.S.-led coalition flies in the sky over the Syrian town of Kobani as seen from a hill in Tal-Hajeb village that overlooks Kobani, October 7, 2014.

A jet from the U.S.-led coalition flies in the sky over the Syrian town of Kobani as seen from a hill in Tal-Hajeb village that overlooks Kobani, October 7, 2014.

The group has been flying the planes over the captured al-Jarrah Syrian military airport east of Aleppo, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing witnesses in Syria’s northern Aleppo province.

“They have trainers, Iraqi officers who were pilots before for (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein,” he said.

“People saw the flights, they went up many times from the airport and they are flying in the skies outside the airport and coming back.”

It was not clear whether the jets were equipped with weaponry or whether the pilots could fly longer distances in the planes, which witnesses said appeared to be MiG 21 or MiG 23 models captured from the Syrian military.

The countryside east of Aleppo city is one of the main bases of Islamic State in Syria. The group has seized tracts of territory in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall, editing by Dominic Evans)

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