Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of a Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Highlights

  • The US, UK, and Canada had claimed Iran shot down the passenger plane by mistake
  • Iran denied the claim initially
  • All 176 persons, mainly Iranians, perished in the crash
  • Iran’s admission and regrets come after preliminary investigations

 

Iran has admitted that its military “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 people onboard, after days of rejecting western intelligence reports that pointed to Tehran being responsible.

A military statement came on Saturday morning via state TV, with “human error” blamed for the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 on Wednesday. It was followed by an apology from Iran’s president.

Apologies

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, tweeted on Saturday:

 

 

The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, also tweeted the country’s regrets and apologies:

 

 

Mistake

The plane was mistaken for a hostile target after it turned towards a sensitive military centre of the Revolutionary Guard, the military’s statement said.

“The military was at its highest level of readiness” amid the heightened tensions with the US, it said, adding: “In such a condition, because of human error and in an unintentional way, the flight was hit.”

The military said it would upgrade its systems to prevent such mistakes in the future and the responsible parties would be referred to a judicial department within the military and held accountable.

The jetliner, a Boeing 737, went down on the outskirts of Tehran during takeoff a few hours after Iran had launched a barrage of missiles at US forces in Iraq in the early hours of Wednesday.

The strikes on two US bases were retaliation for the US drone strike that killed the powerful Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on 3 January – the culmination of a recent series of tit-for-tat attacks that threatened to push Washington and Tehran into war.

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The Guardian reports that Iran’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the crash is likely to inflame public sentiment against authorities after Iranians had rallied around their leaders in the wake of Soleimani’s killing. The general was seen as a national icon and hundreds of thousands of Iranians had turned out for funeral processions across the country.

But the vast majority of the plane victims were Iranians or Iranian-Canadians, and the crash came a few weeks after authorities quashed nationwide protests ignited by a hike in gasoline prices.

Some victims of the fatal crash

Some victims of the fatal crash

Right step

“This is the right step for the Iranian government to admit responsibility, and it gives people a step toward closure with this admission,” said Payman Parseyan, a prominent Iranian-Canadian in western Canada who lost a number of friends in the crash.

“I think the investigation would have disclosed it whether they admitted it or not. This will give them an opportunity to save face.”

Iran had denied for several days that a missile downed the aircraft and instead blamed mechanical malfunction.

The head of Iran’s civil aviation organisation had said it was “scientifically impossible” that a missile could have hit the Ukrainian plane. Such rumours were “illogical”, Ali Abedzadeh told state-run media while in London, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, accused the West and the UK of “politicising” the inquiry.

Western security officials began briefing on Thursday afternoon that intelligence suggested the plane had been accidentally shot down by two surface-to-air missles fired by the Iranian military.

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A preliminary report released by Iran’s civil aviation authority the day after the crash found that the pilots of the doomed plane did not make radio contact but had attempted to turn back to the airport when the plane went down.

Cover up

Air crash experts have raised serious concerns over the handling of the crash site since the plane went down, such as the removal of debris, sparking fears that Tehran has sought to eliminate evidence from the area.

Iran has invited investigators from Canada, Ukraine and Boeing to see the accident site on the outskirts of Tehran and said it would also welcome representatives of other countries whose citizens died.

The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians ,11 Ukrainians and three Britons.

NP/The Guardian/With Reuters and the Associated Press

 

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