The Iranian army admitted on Saturday that it accidentally shot down Ukrainian Airlines’ plane which crashed on Wednesday with 176 people on board, while anti-aircraft defenses were on alert after missile launches to U.S. positions in Iraq.
Tehran has so far denied that the Ukrainian company’s Boeing 737-800 was hit by an Iranian missile, as claimed by Canada and the United States.
The plane crashed near Tehran a few hours after Iranian missile attacks on Iraqi bases housing American troops in retaliation for the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The commander of the al-Quds force was killed on January 3 by an American drone in Baghdad on the orders of Donald Trump.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rohani wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts and prayers go out to the grieving families,” he added.
The Guardians of the Revolution take full responsibility for the destruction of the plane, said the commander of the Iranian Air forces in a statement released last Saturday by state television.
“I would rather die than see such an accident,” said General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, adding that the plane was mistaken for a cruise missile. The officer said he was informed of this on the same day, which raises questions as to why Tehran denied any involvement until Saturday.
According to Iranian news agency Fars, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the revolution, was informed on Friday of the responsibility of the Iranian army and decided to make the facts public after a meeting of security officials.
The Iranian authorities’ confession followed a new call for transparency by Canada, which counted 57 citizens among the 176 victims.
Justin Trudeau, head of the Canadian government, then asked Tehran to cooperate fully with the investigation.
Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenski asked that Iran makes a formal apology. A telephone conversation with Hassan Rohani is scheduled to take place later.
Volodimir Zelenski has already spoken with Emmanuel Macron on Saturday and the two heads of state have agreed that French experts will be involved in decoding the black boxes, according to Kiev. The French President also informed his counterpart that Paris has initiated the official procedure necessary for the opening of an international investigation. In a statement broadcast on state television, the Iranian army explained that the Ukraine Airlines plane had flown over an area near a sensitive military site of the Guardians of the Revolution and had been shot down accidently. The culprits will be brought to military justice, he added.
“Preliminary results of an internal investigation by the armed forces: human error in a time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to disaster,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to a “sad day”.
“Our deepest condolences, apologies and condolences to our people, the families of all the victims and other affected nations,” he added.
In Kiev, the president and vice president of Ukraine Airlines said the plane did not leave its course and accused the Iranian authorities of not closing the airport. The plane was carrying 176 people, mostly Iranians and Iranian Canadians, all of whom died in the crash. It crashed a few minutes after taking off from Tehran International Airport.
The Iranian authorities wanted to recover the contents of the plane’s black boxes, a procedure that could take four to eight weeks, but Tehran has indicated that representatives from Canada and the United States, two countries with which diplomatic relations have been broken off, will participate in the investigation.