Iran has announced that its armed forces “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people aboard.
The Iranians, who denied for days that they caused the crash, admitted on Saturday it was caused by “human error”.
The admission comes as western officials — including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US officials — said intelligence appeared to indicate that an Iranian missile had unintentionally caused the plane crash.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted on Saturday that the country “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake”.
The armed forces said in a statement posted by Iranian state media that the plane came close to a sensitive military site and appeared to be a “hostile target”. They said they were on a high threat alert due to increased enemy air traffic in the region.
The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.
My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences. https://t.co/4dkePxupzm
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 11, 2020
The Ukrainian International Airlines plane on route to Kyiv crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s airport, hours after Iran launched missiles at U.S. forces amidst a rising escalation between the two countries.
The missile strike was in response to the US killing of the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani.
Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif blamed “human error at a time of crisis caused by US adventurism”. Rouhani, in his apology released by state media, also lamented an “atmosphere of intimidation and aggression by the American regime”.
US President Donald Trump said he had eliminated “the world’s top terrorist” in a speech after Soleimani’s death. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that there had been an “imminent threat” that included “attacks on US embassies”.
Tensions between Iran and the US escalated in December after a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi airbase, the Associated Press reported. The US retaliated in December by launching airstrikes targeting an Iran-backed militia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that he expected Iran “to bring those responsible to justice, return the bodies, pay compensation and issue an official apology”.
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 & continue without delays or obstacles.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 11, 2020