'I wish I were dead': Iran's Guard takes responsibility for Ukrainian plane shootdown

A photo taken on Jan 8, 2020, shows the scene where the Ukrainian plane crashed, in Shahedshahr, Iran. Iran's armed forces say they mistook the passenger plane for a cruise missile.
A photo taken on Jan 8, 2020, shows the scene where the Ukrainian plane crashed, in Shahedshahr, Iran. Iran's armed forces say they mistook the passenger plane for a cruise missile.PHOTO: AP

TEHERAN (AP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander says his unit accepts "full responsibility" for the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian passenger plane.

In an address broadcast by state TV on Saturday (Jan 11), General Amir Ali Hajizadeh says that when he learnt about the downing of the plane, which killed all 176 passengers on board, "I wished I were dead".

Iran's armed forces say they mistook the passenger plane for a cruise missile in the tense aftermath of Iran's ballistic missile attack on two military bases in Iraq housing US troops.

That attack was retaliation for the killing of Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad.

The Ukrainian plane was shot down by a short-range missile, said Gen Hajizadeh, commander of the Guards’ aerospace force.

The troops at the anti-aircraft battery mistook the flight for a cruise missile, though the plane was moving at just over 500 kmh, said the general. Cruise missiles travel at faster speeds.

He also said the missile battery’s crew had "only 10 seconds" to make a decision and their radios were jammed, something he did not elaborate on. Iran routinely jams satellite and other signals.

Nine other flights flew out of the airport early Wednesday morning before the Ukrainian airliner as well without encountering trouble.

Gen Hajizadeh said the Guard suggested Teheran should close its airspace as its had "prepared ourselves for an all-out conflict" with the US, though officials took no action.