Iran protests to UN after US jets approach passenger flight over Syria

An image grab from a video released by state-run Iran Press news agency on July 24, 2020, reportedly shows a fighter jet after it was intercepted by a US F-15 while flying over Syria. PHOTO: AFP

TEHERAN (AFP) - Iran protested on Friday (July 24) to the UN of a "flagrant violation" of international law after nearby US fighter jets sparked panic on an Iranian passenger plane over war-torn Syria.

The incident on Thursday was the latest between arch-foes Teheran and Washington since US President Donald Trump walked out in 2018 of a nuclear accord with Iran and renewed punishing sanctions.

Iran's state television broadcast footage filmed on a mobile phone of screaming passengers as the pilot of a Mahan Air plane on a flight from Teheran to Beirut took emergency action.

A passenger with blood running down his forehead and another who had fallen to the floor were seen in the video, and one jet spotted through the window.

State news agency IRNA said a protest letter would be submitted to the United Nations Security Council and secretary general over "the threat posed to the Mahan Air passenger plane".

Iran's foreign ministry said protests were also filed with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Swiss embassy in Teheran that handles US interests in Iran since ties were cut in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"If anything happens to the aircraft on its return flight, Iran will hold the United States responsible," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told IRNA.

The US military said an "F-15 on a routine air mission... conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 metres (yards)".

US Central Command (Centcom) issued a statement after Iranian state television aired the footage of passengers in panic as the Mahan Air plane appeared to change course suddenly.


In an initial report, the state broadcaster said the military aircraft were believed to be Israeli.

"After this dangerous action by the Israeli fighter, the pilot of the commercial plane quickly reduced the altitude of the flight to avoid colliding... injuring several passengers on board," it said.

IRNA said the Mahan Air pilot made contact on the radio with two US fighter planes, before the aircraft landed safely in the Lebanese capital.

Centcom, which covers the whole of the wider Middle East, insisted it was a "professional intercept... conducted in accordance with international standards".

"Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft," it said.

Iranian television called the incident "provocative and dangerous".

A security source in Lebanon said the Iranian aircraft landed safely at Beirut international airport with "four lightly injured passengers" on board.

Syrian state media said "planes believed to belong to the US-led coalition intercepted" the Iranian airliner over the Al-Tanf district on the border with Jordan and Iraq, forcing it to make "a sharp drop".

The coalition operates a base in Al-Tanf to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group in Syria, where Iran supports the regime in its nine-year-old civil war.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.