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Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 left Tehran’s international airport at 6:12 a.m. and lost contact two minutes later, according to a flight tracker.Credit…Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press
Iran says it accidentally shot down Flight 752.
After maintaining for days that there was no evidence that one of its missiles had struck a Boeing 737-800 minutes after it took off from Tehran on Wednesday with 176 people on board, Iran admitted early on Saturday that its military had accidentally shot down the passenger jet.
The military blamed human error. In a statement, it said the plane had taken a sharp, unexpected turn that brought it near a sensitive military base.
In post on Twitter, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohamad Javad Zarif, apologized but appeared to blame American “adventurism” for the tragedy, writing: “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had been informed about the accidental shooting down, said information should be publicly announced after a meeting of Iran’s top security body, the semiofficial Fars news agency said on Twitter.
President Hassan Rouhani said on Twitter that Iran “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.”
In a statement cited by the semiofficial Fars News Agency, the president offered condolences to the victims’ families and said that “the terrible catastrophe should be thoroughly investigated.” He added that those responsible for “this unforgivable mistake” would be identified and “prosecuted.”
But he also said that in an environment of military threats and terror by the United States’ “aggressive” government against the people of Iran, and facing the possibility of American military strikes on Iran, the armed forces made a “human mistake and misfired” and “it led to a big catastrophe and innocent people were killed.”
“This painful incident is not something we can easily overcome,” he added, saying that was imperative to is correct any shortcomings in the country’s defense mechanism and ensure such a tragedy would not happen again.
Ukraine’s president wants ‘a full admission of guilt.’
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, in his first reaction to Iran’s announcement, said Kyiv would “insist on a full admission of guilt” by Tehran.
“We expect Iran to assure its readiness for a full and open investigation, to bring those responsible to justice, to return the bodies of the victims, to pay compensation, and to make official apologies through diplomatic channels,” Mr. Zelensky said in a post on his Facebook page. “We hope that the investigation will continue without artificial delays and obstacles.”
Mr. Zelensky had come under domestic criticism this week for refusing to publicly blame Iran for the disaster even as the United States, Canada and Britain did. Instead, he dispatched a team of specialists to Tehran who sought to work alongside Iranians in studying the crash site. He implored the public to avoid speculating about the cause of the disaster.
Later, the office of the Ukrainian president posted on Facebook photos of what it said was shrapnel damage on the plane wreckage and a Canadian man’s passport showing piercings about half an inch in diameter.
Mr. Zelensky’s office said on Saturday that Iran had cooperated in Ukraine’s investigation of the crash and that Ukraine’s investigators had “received all of the necessary information from the beginning.”
It was now clear, Mr. Zelensky’s office said, that the investigation would be conducted fairly.
“Based on the information collected so far, thanks to the work of our group of experts, we have received enough information to know that the investigation will be conducted objectively and expeditiously,” Mr. Zelensky’s office said. “The political portion of the work is concluded. Our specialists continue to work in order to carry out all necessary legal procedures.”
Iran’s announcement on Saturday vindicated Mr. Zelensky’s cautious approach, said Ivan Yakovina, a columnist for the Kyiv-based magazine Novoye Vremya.
“If there had been threats from Ukraine, then I believe Iran wouldn’t have allowed the specialists to do their jobs and generally would have refused to admit guilt,” he said.
An Iranian commander said he accepted responsibility.
Later, a commander of the aerospace force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Amirali Hajizadeh, said in a televised address that he accepted responsibility for the plane’s shooting down minutes after takeoff, according to Iranian state TV.
He said the passenger jet had been misidentified as a cruise missile, and had been shot down with a short-range missile that exploded near the plane.
“I wish I was dead,” Mr. Hajizadeh was quoted as saying by local news outlets. “I accept all responsibility for this incident.”
He said that whatever decision the authorities made, “I will accept with the arms open.”
Iranians reacted with anger and sorrow.
Iranians expressed fury toward their government in the first hours after Tehran’s admission, even as many planned to gather in main squares around town with candles at 5 p.m. Saturday local time.
Conservatives and supporters of the government accused the authorities of intentionally misleading the public initially about what had brought down the plane, whose passengers included many young Iranians on their way to Canada for graduate study.
The semiofficial Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, posted a harsh commentary condemning Iran’s leaders, saying “their shortcomings have made this tragedy twice as bitter.”
“It is pivotal that those who were hiding the truth from the public for the past 72 hours be held accountable, we cannot let this go,” it read.
“Individuals, media, political and military officials who commented in the past 72 hours must be investigated. If they knew of the truth and were deliberately speaking falsehood or for any reason were trying to hide it, they must be prosecuted, no matter what post they hold.”
Flights In and Out of Tehran Continued After Missile Strikes and Plane Crash
Planes took off after Iran’s missile strikes on bases in Iraq, and even after a Ukrainian plane crashed shortly after takeoff.
Siamak Ghaesmi, a Tehran-based economist, addressed the country’s leaders in an Instagram post: “I don’t know what to do with my rage and grief. I’m thinking of all the ‘human errors’ in these years that were never revealed because there was no international pressure.
I’m thinking of the little trust left that was shattered. I’m thinking of the innocent lives lost because of confronting and being stubborn with the world. What have you done with us?”
Mohamad Saeed Ahadian, a conservative analyst in Iran, said on Twitter, “There are two major problems with the Ukrainian Airlines issue. One is firing at an airplane and two is firing at the public’s trust. The first can be justified but the latter is a mistake with absolutely no justification.”
Some social media posts made use of the term “harsh revenge,” which Iran’s leaders had promised to inflict on the United States for the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a top Revolutionary Guards commander, in a drone strike last week.
Mojtaba Fathi, an Iranian journalist, wrote on Twitter, “They were supposed to take their harsh revenge against America, not the people.”
Western nations had already concluded that Tehran was to blame.
The New York Times has obtained and verified video showing the moment a Ukrainian airliner was hit in Iran.CreditCredit…Screenshot from video
International pressure had been building on Iran to take responsibility. American and allied officials had said that all intelligence assessments indicated that surface-to-air missiles fired by Iranian military forces had shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.
Hours after the crash, Ukraine International Airlines officials had consistently ruled out pilot error or mechanical problems as the cause of the crash. They had said the Boeing 737-800, which was less than four years old, was helmed by some of the airline’s most experienced crew.
“We never thought for a second that our crew and our plane could have been the reason for this terrible, horrific aviation catastrophe,” the airline’s president, Yevhenii Dykhne, said in a Facebook post on Saturday after Iran’s admission. “These were our best young men and women. The best.”
There was no immediate reaction from the United States to Iran’s admission, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been the first American official to publicly confirm the intelligence assessments.
“We do believe that it’s likely that the plane was shot down by an Iranian missile,” Mr. Pompeo said at a briefing at the White House announcing new sanctions against Iran on Friday.
The crash occurred days after the American drone strike that killed General Suleimani and an Iraqi militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as they left the airport in Baghdad. The general’s killing sent shock waves through the Middle East and led to calls for revenge in Iran, as well as a vote by Iraq’s Parliament to oust American troops from that country.
Iran responded to the drone strike by firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at two American bases in Iraq. But the missiles caused little damage and no American or Iraqi casualties, President Trump and Iraqi officials said.
Trudeau calls for ‘closure’ and ‘accountability.’
President Justin Trudeau of Canada, who has said his country expects to play a big role in Iran’s investigation of the airliner crash that killed 63 Canadians even though the two nations do not have diplomatic ties, said on Saturday that “closure, accountability” were needed after Iran’s admission, according to a statement from his office.
“Our focus remains closure, accountability, transparency and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims,” the statement said. “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.”
The 176 people who died on the flight included 57 Canadians, many of them students or faculty at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. About 27 residents of Edmonton were on the plane.
In Canada, Iranians are comparative newcomers: Most arrived after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Today, by some counts, Canada has the third-largest number of expatriate Iranians in the world and its universities are a top destination for Iranian graduate students.
Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012, but Mr. Trudeau said on Wednesday that Canada’s foreign minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, would contact his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to underline the need for a proper inquiry.
All sides should ‘learn lessons,’ a Russian official said.
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign relations committee in the Russian Senate, said Iran’s admission showed the downing of the plane had been a “tragic incident” and should not lead to further escalation between Iran and the West.
“It was a tragic incident; people cannot be returned,” Mr. Kosachev told the Interfax news agency. “The admission of error, although not immediately, and expression of condolences is sufficient to be accepted. With this, the incident should be closed.”
All sides should “learn lessons” from what happened, he said. The disaster “became possible in conditions of real danger of repeat American strikes, this time on Iranian territory, though this in no way justifies the mistake.”
Mr. Kosachev also pushed back on reports that the missile used to strike the plane had been Russian-made. He did not deny the missile’s origin, but rejected any Russian responsibility for what had happened. “There’s an effort to keep playing the Russian card,” he said, “and at the height of this tragedy, it is absolutely immoral.”
American intelligence officials have said that a Russian-made missile system designated SA-15 by NATO and known in Russia as the Tor struck the civilian airliner shortly after takeoff.
How does the missile system work?
The Tor system is a mobile missile launch system, with eight missiles carried on either a tracked vehicle or a truck. The vehicles can operate without relying on other air defense infrastructure: They carry both a radar to detect targets and a launch system. The low- to medium- altitude missiles were developed by Soviet engineers in the 1970s as a so-called lower-tier air defense weapon.
The Tor was designed to protect the airspace over a small area, such as above army formations or columns of tanks against a wide range of threats, including airplanes, helicopters, drones or missiles. The Russian military, for example, uses the Tor system at its air base in Syria to shoot down small, improvised drones made by Syrian rebels.
Russia sold the Tor systems to Iran in 2005 as part of a $1 billion arms deal and over the objection of American diplomats. It has also sold the system to more than a dozen other countries. The foreign sales create economies of scale in Russia’s military industry, helping to underwrite research and development costs.
Reporting was contributed by Farnaz Fassihi, Anton Troianovski, Ian Austen, Andrew Kramer, Christiaan Triebert and Ivan Nechepurenko.
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