Iran says its military ‘unintentionally’ shot down Ukrainian jetliner

Site of the plane crash
Site of the plane crash

Iran announced Saturday that its military “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 aboard, including 57 Canadians, after repeatedly denying it was responsible.

The statement from Iran’s military came Saturday morning and blamed “human error” for the shootdown.

The jetliner went down on the outskirts of Tehran during takeoff early Wednesday, just hours after Iran launched a barrage of missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces. No one was wounded in the strike on the bases.

Iran’s statement says the country’s military had to stay on high alert due to “unprecedented threats” from the U.S., which had ordered a strike that killed top-ranking Iranian military officer, Gen. Qassam Soleimani, on Jan. 3.

The Ukrainian airliner was approaching a sensitive military base belonging to the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps after its takeoff, according to the statement.

“Because of human error, [the plane] was struck,” the statement read.

Iran apologizes in the statement to those who lost their loved ones in the crash and pledges to bring justice to those responsible for the act and to upgrade its systems to prevent such “mistakes” in the future.

Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said on Twitter that the country “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.”

“Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake,” he said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, said on Twitter in response to the news: “A sad day … Human error at the time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”

Iran had denied for several days that a missile downed the aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 operated by Ukraine International Airlines, instead blaming a fire in the jet’s engine.

Earlier Friday, the head of Iran’s national aviation department, Ali Abedzadeh, told a news conference that “what is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane.” If the U.S. and Canada are sure, he added, they should “show their findings to the world.”

But the U.S. and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believe Iran shot down the aircraft.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said multiple intelligence sources had indicated the plane was downed by an Iranian missile, possibly by accident — an assessment that has been echoed by Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Scott Morrison.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the highest-level American official to pin blame on Iran when he made similar comments Friday.

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 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials.

Sixty-three Canadians were originally thought to be on the plane, as cited by Ukrainian authorities, but Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne lowered that number to 57 on Friday evening after Canadian officials considered additional information.

The Canadian government has created an international task force, called the International Co-ordination and Response Group, to pressure Iran to conduct a thorough investigation on the crash. It includes Ukraine, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Afghanistan — all countries that lost citizens in the crash. Iran and Germany also had citizens on the plane, but decided to not be a part of the group.

Global Affairs Canada has deployed a team to identify victims’ remains, but Iran has so far only issued two visas, according to Champagne.