OTTAWA (BLOOMBERG, AFP, AP) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said evidence suggests that a Ukrainian jet was hit by an Iranian missile before it crashed in Teheran, and called for an international probe of the disaster.
"We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile," Mr Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday (Jan 9).
"This may well have been unintentional."
More than a third of the 176 people aboard Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Flight 752 were from Canada when it plunged from the sky about two minutes after a pre-dawn take-off on Wednesday. The Boeing 737-800 was on fire, according to witnesses on the ground and in other aircraft cited in a preliminary Iranian report on the crash.
Iran's state media say authorities have invited Boeing to take part in the investigation into the crash.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman on Friday as saying Iran "has invited both Ukraine and the Boeing company to participate in the investigations."
The spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, says it will also welcome experts from other countries' whose citizens died in the crash.
Whether accidental or intentional, a shoot-down would echo two other instances of surface-to-air missiles knocking down civilian jets.
Curiously, Iran and Ukraine were involved in the previous episodes.
In 2014, pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine fired on and destroyed a Malaysia Airlines jetliner. In 1988, an Iranian airliner was felled by a United States cruiser after being mistaken for a hostile intruder following a skirmish with Iranian boats.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement there is evidence UIA Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.
"We are working closely with Canada and our international partners and there now needs to be a full, transparent investigation," he said.
US President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday, said "I have my suspicions" about why the plane went down, but said he didn't want to say what those suspicions were.
"It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood," he said. "Somebody could have made a mistake."
Two surface-to-air missile launches were detected by a US spy satellite from an Iranian battery near the airport minutes after the jet took off, followed by an explosion near the plane, said a person familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Two SA-15 missiles are suspected of crippling the jet. The Russian-made missile, also known as a Gauntlet or a Tor, is a short-range weapon designed to attack planes, helicopters and other airborne targets.
Mr Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation, said "it's not possible" for an Iranian rocket to have hit the plane.
"There's a very defined relationship in Iran between military and civilian structures and it's based on the regulations of the international civil aviation authority to which we comply, like all other countries," he said in an interview on Iranian TV.
Boeing shares rose as much as 3.1 per cent and traded up 1.5 per cent to US$336.44 at 3.57pm in New York on the news. If the plane was brought down by a missile strike it could rule out a mechanical failure that would affect other Boeing planes.
"Our country is interested to find out the truth," the Ukrainian president's office said in a statement. "So we address all Ukraine's international partners: If you have evidences that can help the investigation, please provide them."
It said 45 Ukraine experts were working in Iran on the investigation and there are "several versions" for the cause under consideration.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Ukrainian counterpart, Mr Volodymyr Zelensky, spoke by phone on Thursday and agreed to form a task force involving their transport officials and foreign ministries, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, citing Mr Rouhani's deputy head of communications.
The US intelligence assessment is consistent with what some aviation accident experts have said. The apparent rapid spread of the fire combined with the sudden halt of radio transmissions from the plane after a normal climb aren't consistent with previous crashes, said Mr Jeffrey Guzzetti, the former head of accident investigations at the Federal Aviation Administration.
While Iranian officials initially said they suspected a problem with one of the plane's engines, they retracted that in a preliminary report issued on Thursday. The government also took the unusual step of setting up an investigative group to examine whether "any unlawful actions" initiated the fire on the plane, the preliminary report said.
Iran has notified the International Civil Aviation Organisation, an arm of the United Nations, about the crash, the agency said in a press release on Thursday.
Under rules known as Annex 13, the nation in which a crash occurs usually is in charge of an investigation. Other nations are permitted to take part, such as the country in which the plane was made. Since Boeing manufactured the Ukrainian jet, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would have a right to participate.
"Ukraine, as the operator country of the plane is obliged to cooperate with us and share the plane's necessary data for investigation," Mr Abedzadeh, the Iranian aviation official, said in a TV interview on Thursday. "Others can also join in investigations."
He said France, where portions of the engines were made, the US and Canada, due to its loss of life on the plane, had all been notified and can take part.
"France, Canada and the NTSB of the United States have expressed their readiness and introduced their representatives for cooperation," he said.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday it will join the probe into the crash. In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the agency said it had "received formal notification" from Iran of the crash which occurred on Wednesday.
"The NTSB has designated an accredited representative to the investigation of the crash," said the US agency which probes transport accidents.
"The NTSB continues to monitor the situation surrounding the crash and evaluate its level of participation in the investigation," which will be led by Iran, the statement said.
"As with any investigation in which the NTSB is involved, the agency will not speculate about the cause of the crash."