TEHERAN (AP, REUTERS, AFP) - Iran announced Saturday (Jan 11) that its military “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week, killing all 176 aboard, after the government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible.
The plane was shot down early Wednesday, hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing US troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad. No one was wounded in the attack on the bases.
A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military centre” of the Revolutionary Guard.
The military was at its “highest level of readiness,“ it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the statement said. It apologised for the disaster and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent such “mistakes” in the future. It also said those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted.
Iran “deeply regrets” the accidental shooting down of the airliner, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a tweet on Saturday. “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” he wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.”
The investigation will continue, Rouhani wrote in a separate tweet.
Iran’s foreign minister offered his country’s “profound regrets, apologies and condolences” Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter. “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” he said. “Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Teheran shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport.
Iran had denied for several days that a missile caused the crash. But then the US and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believed Iran shot down the aircraft.
The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. The Canadian government had earlier lower the nation’s death toll from 63.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.