Iran admits 'unintentionally' shooting down Ukrainian plane

11 January 2020, 15:50

Iran has admitted responsibility for shooting down the Ukrainian plane
Iran has admitted responsibility for shooting down the Ukrainian plane. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Iran's admission it shot down a passenger plane by mistake "reinforces the need of deescalating tensions in the region."

The UK leader called Iran's move "an important first step" before calling for "a comprehensive, transparent and independent international investigation" into the crash.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of the crisis: "Our focus remains closure, accountability, transparency, and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims.

"This is a national tragedy, and all Canadians are mourning together.

"We will continue working with our partners around the world to ensure a complete and thorough investigation, and the Canadian government expects full cooperation from Iranian authorities."

Mr Johnson echoed him, saying: "The UK will work closely with Canada, Ukraine and our other international partners affected by this accident to ensure this happens.

"This tragic accident only reinforces the importance of de-escalating tensions in the region. We can all see very clearly that further conflict will only lead to more loss and tragedy. It is vital that all leaders now pursue a diplomatic way forward."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei earlier offered his condolences over the Ukrainian airliner that was shot down by Iranian forces.

Ayatollah Khamenei also called for an investigation after his country's military announced that it "unintentionally" shot down the Ukrainian International Airlines plane that crashed earlier this week.

The Iranian government had previously denied responsibility for the tragedy that killed all 176 people on board.

Early on Wednesday, the Boeing 737 jetliner was shot down just hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases in Iraq housing US troops.

The attacks were in response to the death of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani who was killed by the US in an airstrike in Baghdad.

Iran's military released a statement saying the plane had been mistaken for a "hostile target" after it manoeuvred towards a "sensitive military centre" of the Revolutionary Guard.

An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander said his unit accepts "full responsibility" over the incident.

In an address broadcast by state TV, Gen Amir Ali Hajizadeh said that when he learned about the downing of the plane: "I wished I were dead."

The shooting down of the airliner killed all 176 people on board
The shooting down of the airliner killed all 176 people on board. Picture: PA

Heightened tensions in the region meant Iran's forces were at their "highest level of readiness," according to the statement.

"In such a condition, because of human error and in an unintentional way, the flight was hit," the military said.

An apology was issued by officials, who also promised to upgrade their systems and prosecute whoever was responsible.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Iran must take further steps, including an official apology, following the admission.

He added that his country expected "assurances" from Iran of a "full and open investigation, bringing the perpetrators to justice."

Mr Zelensky said that Ukraine expected the "paying of compensation" and "official apologies through diplomatic channels."

He also expressed hope for the continuation of the crash investigation without delay. A team of Ukrainian investigators is already in Iran.

"Our 45 specialists should get full access and cooperation to establish justice," he said.

Iran's ambassador to the UK apologised on Twitter for suggesting Iran could not have shot down the plane.

He wrote: "In my statement yesterday to the UK media, I conveyed the official findings of responsible authorities in my country that missile could not be fired and hit the Ukrainian plane at that period of time.

"I apologise and regret for conveying such wrong findings."

Labour leader candidate Sir Keir Starmer said it was "important this admission" had been made by Iran for the "truly tragic" crash.

He called for a "full and calm investigation" following a "very tense" week in world politics.

"It looks as though there's an element of deescalation, I just hope it is deescalation and not a pause in the escalation because I don't think anybody wants to see further conflict or wars in the Middle East," he added.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani pinned the blame on the US, saying its "threats and bullying" in the days after General Soleimani's death were responsible for the tragedy.

He expressed condolences to the families of the victims and called for a "full investigation" into the crash.

"A sad day," Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.

"Human error at 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."

The airliner came crashing down on the outskirts of Tehran shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Despite Iran initially denying responsibility, US and Canadian intelligence suggested the Middle Eastern country was culpable.

Videos of the incident supported Western intelligence that the aircraft was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country "will not rest" until it gets answers
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country "will not rest" until it gets answers. Picture: PA

The Kyiv-bound plane was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials.

Canada's government had earlier lowered the nation's death toll from 63.

"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."

The head of the airline said he was always sure that the company was not at fault.

Evgeniy Dikhne said on Facebook: "We did not for a second doubt that our crew and our plane could not have been the cause of this terrible, awful air catastrophe. They were our best guys and girls. The best."

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