By Marina Villén / Tehran / Iran admitted on Saturday that its armed forces had downed a Ukraine International Airlines passenger jet with 176 civilians on board and said it had been an involuntary human error.
The Iranian military had been denying their responsibility in the tragedy – which took place on Wednesday, shortly after the UIA flight PS752 took off from Tehran airport – for the past two days after several NATO members, spearheaded by Canada, said they had intelligence suggesting the plane crash was not due to a technical error, but rather had been brought down by ballistic missiles.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.”
Rouhani said in a separate post that the investigation into the circumstances that led to the tragic error would continue.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard said in a statement that the mistake was made in the context of a “very delicate crisis situation,” claiming that the Boeing 737 had flown close to a IRG military center with the “altitude and flight position of an enemy target.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, also took to Twitter to express his regret for the incident and partially blamed it on the United States’ “adventurism.”
“A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” Zarif wrote. “Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
The crash occurred in the context of a targeted missile attack against two US bases in Iraq, Tehran’s retaliation for the assassination of its top general, Qasem Soleimani, via drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Iran warned the US in advance of this limited response, thus avoiding any casualties.
In a later official government statement, Rouhani said the military had been on alert for possible American attacks after Soleimani’s “martyrdom.”
The Iranian leader added that he had instructed all relevant government bodies to take all necessary actions to ensure compensation to the victims’ families.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei order an investigation into the possible “irregularities and negligence” that led to the tragedy.
Hours later, the IRGC’s aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh accepted responsibility for the downing of the jet and said the passenger plane had been mistaken for a cruise missile.
“The defense system was on maximum alert,” he told a press conference, adding that the system had picked up what it believed to be a cruise missile 19 kilometers away.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to Iran’s admission on Twitter.
“This morning brings the truth. Ukraine insists on a full admission of guilt. We expect Iran to bring those responsible to justice, return the bodies, pay compensation and issue an official apology. The investigation must be full, open and continue without delays or obstacles.”
Eleven Ukrainians, including all nine crew members, were killed when the aircraft was downed in the northern Tehran exurb of Shahrar after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport.
On the other hand, the president of UIA, Yevhenii Dykhne, said in a statement on his Facebook page that he never doubted the airline was not to blame in the crash.
“We didn’t doubt for a second that our crew and our plane couldn’t be the cause for this horrible plane crash,” Dykhne said. “These were our best guys and girls. The best.”
On Friday, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, Ali Abedzade, ruled out the possibility that the airliner had been shot down by the army and “vehemently” rejected such reports.
“One thing is for certain, this airplane was not hit by a missile,” Abedzadeh said during a press conference in Tehran held in response to earlier remarks by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying his government had evidence indicating that the cause of the crash that killed all 176 passengers was a missile strike.
On Saturday, it was also revealed that 57 passengers onboard the aircraft were Canadian nationals, instead of the 63 that had been initially reported. (January 11, 2020, EFE/PracticaEspañol)
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