POLITICS

Iranian military says it ‘unintentionally’ shot down Ukrainian plane

Iranian military says it ‘unintentionally’ shot down Ukrainian plane

Iranian officials admitted its military unintentionally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane hours after the country had launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases hosting U.S. troops. They blamed “human error.”

“Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people. Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Twitter.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement that the military had been on highest alert after launching ballistic missiles against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq as retaliation for the killing of a top Iranian general by a U.S. airstrike.

The Ukrainian passenger jet was shot down hours after those strikes.

Iran also expressed condolences to the families of all of those killed, and the military statement suggests those responsible would be referred for criminal charges.

Based on a preliminary conclusion by the armed forces, “human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted.

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Iran had previously denied shooting down the Ukraine International Airlines shortly after it took off from Tehran early Wednesday.

Prior to Iran’s admission Saturday, U.S. intelligence officials had evidence that the Boeing 737 was shot down by an Iranian missile by mistake, multiple officials have said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his country also had evidence that the plane was shot down.

He said Canadian officials had intelligence from multiple sources, including allies as well as Canada’s own intelligence, indicating “the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.” Trudeau said then that it could have been unintentional.

Sixty-three Canadians were among those killed, Ukraine’s foreign ministry has said. Also on board were 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 people from Sweden, four from Afghanistan, three Germans and three from the United Kingdom.

The passenger plane was headed from Tehran to Kyiv, Ukraine, where more than 130 were to change planes to head to Canada, Trudeau has said.

Among those killed was a 9-year-old girl who died with her mother, husband and wife professors, and graduate students. The University of Alberta alone lost 10 people, including professors, students and alumni.

Another passenger plane, MH17, was also shot down amid military conflict in Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people aboard.

A Dutch-led team of investigators and prosecutors two years later concluded it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from a Russian launcher in an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Moscow rebels.

An international team of investigators in 2018 said that the Buk missile came from a Russia-based military unit. Russia has denied shooting down the plane.

In 1988, a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger plane, Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 274 passengers and the 16 crew aboard.

Last week, after President Donald Trump threatened to target 52 sites in Iran should leaders there retaliate for the death of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s president appeared to make reference to the 1988 incident.

“Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655,” Rouhani said in a tweet, warning “never threaten the Iranian nation.”

Phil Helsel

Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.

Ali Arouzi

Ali Arouzi is NBC News’ Tehran bureau chief and correspondent.

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