Iran denies shooting down Ukraine jet

Western leaders say plane carrying 176 people was brought down by Iran missile by mistake

In this handout photo provided on Jan 8, 2020, rescue teams work at the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off near Imam Khomeini airport in Teheran. PHOTO: AFP/IRNA/AKBAR TAVAKOLI

WASHINGTON• • Western leaders said that a Ukrainian passenger plane which crashed on Wednesday near Teheran, killing all 176 people on board, was brought down by an Iranian missile in error, allegations that Iran's government has denied.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that intelligence from multiple sources, including Canada's allies, "indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile", and called for an international probe into the disaster.

"This may well have been unintentional," he added.

More than a third of the 176 people aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which plunged from the sky about two minutes after a pre-dawn take-off from Teheran, were from Canada. It was bound for Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

The Boeing 737-800 was on fire before crashing, according to witnesses on the ground and in other aircraft who were cited in a preliminary Iranian report on the crash.

US President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday, said he suspected that the plane was downed because "somebody could have made a mistake".

The New York Times reported it had obtained a video that appears to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane near the Teheran airport.

The video shows a small explosion occurring when a missile struck the jet, which did not explode, according to the Times.

Similarly, 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.

The Russian-made SA-15 missile, also known as a Gauntlet or a Tor, is suspected of being involved. The missile is a short-range weapon designed to attack planes, helicopters and other airborne targets.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said that Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

The crash took place after Iran carried out missile strikes on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq. There was speculation that the Iranians might have mistaken the Ukraine plane for a US warplane on a retaliatory strike mission.

In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that while a missile hit had not been ruled out, it also had not been confirmed.

He spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday, and has asked the US and other Western countries to release the evidence that the plane was shot down.

Iran has maintained that there was no evidence the plane was struck by a missile, and doubled down on that assertion yesterday.

Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation chief, Mr Ali Abedzadeh, urged caution, and said that nothing could be determined until the data from the black boxes was analysed, and said statements made by other nations were politically motivated.

"We cannot just give you speculation," he said. "So far, what I can tell you is that the plane has not been hit by a missile and we have to look for the cause of the fire."

Wednesday's downing echoed other instances of surface-to-air missiles striking civilian jets.

In 2014, pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine fired on and destroyed a Malaysia Airlines jetliner, killing all 298 people on board.

In 1988, an Iranian airliner was shot down by a US cruiser after being mistaken for a hostile aircraft following a skirmish with Iranian boats. All 290 people on board died.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline Iran denies shooting down Ukraine jet. Subscribe