'Highly likely' Iran shot down plane, world leaders claim

10 January 2020, 08:23

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was evidence to suggest the airliner had been down by a missile.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was evidence to suggest the airliner had been down by a missile. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

World leaders have said it is “highly likely Iran shot down the civilian Ukrainian jetliner that crashed near Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

American, Canadian and British officials believe the jet could have been hit by mistake as rocket and missile attacks took place in the region against US forces in Iraq.

The crash happened just hours after Iran attacked an Iraqi military base, an act of revenge aimed at US troops over the drone killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Four US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the airliner could have been mistaken for a threat. Iran has recently shot down several US military drones in the region.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said in Ottawa: “We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”

Boris Johnson confirms four Britons died in Ukrainian plane 'shot down by Iran'

Likewise, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered similar statements. Mr Morrison also said it appeared to be a mistake. "All of the intelligence as presented to us today does not suggest an intentional act," he said.

The news comes as the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to Iran.

It was not immediately clear how the US and allies would react. Despite efforts by Washington and Tehran to step back from the brink of a possible war, the region remained on edge after the killing of Gen Soleimani and Iran's retaliatory missile strikes. US troops were on high alert.

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Investigators examine wreckage after the plane crashed
Investigators examine wreckage after the plane crashed. Picture: PA

At the White House, President Donald Trump suggested he believed Iran was responsible for shooting down the plane and dismissed Iran's initial claim that it was a mechanical issue.

"Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side." Mr Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a "pretty rough neighbourhood".

US officials would not say what intelligence they had that pointed to an Iranian missile, believed to be fired by a Russian Tor system, known to NATO as the SA-15. But they acknowledged the existence of satellites and other sensors in the region, as well as the likelihood of communication interceptions and other similar intelligence.

The New York Times posted a video it said it had verified showing the moment the apparent missile struck the plane over Iran. The video shows a fast-moving object rising before a fiery explosion. An object, apparently on fire, then continues in a different direction.

A preliminary Iranian investigative report said the airliner pilots did not make a radio call for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when it went down.

The Iranian report suggested a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines when it crashed, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.

Iran's official news agency said the country is inviting Boeing experts to join the investigation into the plane crash.

Before the US assessment, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted Hasan Rezaeifa, the head of the of civil aviation accident investigation commission, claiming that "the topics of rocket, missile or anti-aircraft system is ruled out".

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, "Undoubtedly, the priority for Ukraine is to identify the causes of the plane crash. We will surely find out the truth."

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