Iran Admits Military Mistakenly Shot Down Civilian Plane Outside Tehran

TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: An official inspects a piece of the plane at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to Ukrainian International Airlines crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 1... TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: An official inspects a piece of the plane at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to Ukrainian International Airlines crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 11, 2020 9:49 a.m.

Iran acknowledged Saturday that its own military shot down a civilian plane early Wednesday morning, calling the incident a grave mistake.

Ukraine Airlines flight 752, with 176 people on board, crashed into an open field after being hit by an Iranian missile operator. Iranians and Canadians made up the bulk of the passengers. Most on the plane were headed to Canada; all perished.

The crash occurred hours after Iran struck two American military bases in Iraq and was bracing for a potential American military response. Iranian officials initially ruled out a military cause for the crash, instead blaming mechanical issues on the plane.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter that “missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” he added. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.”

The leader of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aerospace division, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, addressed the situation in a televised presentation a few hours later.

“I wish I could die and not witness such an accident,” Hajizadeh said, according to a translation from Reuters.

According to a translation from the Iranian journalist Reza Khaasteh, Hajizadeh said later in his remarks that Iran had been ready Wednesday morning for an all-out war with the United States, and that there had been reports of cruise missiles fired at Iran.

An individual missile operator, having seen the Ukrainian plane Wednesday morning, sent a message to commanders but did not receive a response for 10 seconds. At that point, the operator shot the plane down, Hajizadeh said, per Khaasteh’s translation.

In a separate military statement quoted by USA Today, Iran said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after turning toward a “sensitive military center.”

“In such a condition, because of human error and in an unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the statement said.

The crash happened just hours after Iran shot several missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq, killing none. Those missiles were fired in response to the American killing of the top Iranian commander Qassim Soleimani days earlier.

Soleimani’s killing, ordered by President Donald Trump, caused an uproar in the region — Iraq’s parliament called for American forces to leave the country — and at home, where the House of Representatives passed a war powers resolution Thursday to constrain Trump’s future potential military action against Iran.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged in a statement that Iran had “admitted its guilt.”

“We expect reassurance from Iran in readiness for a full and open investigation, holding those responsible accountable, return of the bodies of the deceased, payment of compensation, and official apologies via diplomatic channels,” he added.

Iran’s admission followed preliminary judgments from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Iran’s own missiles had shot down the plane.

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