Rouhani blames downing of jet on US 'threats and bullying'

TEHERAN • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has blamed his country's downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in part on "threats and bullying" by the United States after the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in an American air strike in Baghdad.

A military statement carried by state media yesterday said the plane was mistaken for a "hostile target" after it turned towards a "sensitive military centre" of the Revolutionary Guards.

The military was at its "highest level of readiness", it said, amid the heightened tensions with the US.

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

It apologised for the disaster and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent such "mistakes" in the future. It also said those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted.

In remarks aired on state television, a Guard commander, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said the missile operator who fired on the plane did so independently because of communications "jamming".

"The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake," Mr Rouhani wrote on Twitter, promising that those behind the incident would be prosecuted.

"My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his condolences and ordered the armed forces to address "shortcomings" so that such a disaster does not happen again.

 
 
 

US President Donald Trump on Friday gave more reasons why it had decided to take out Major-General Soleimani. Iran, he said, had planned to attack multiple embassies across the Middle East, including the US Embassy in Baghdad. "I can reveal that I believe it probably would've been four embassies," Mr Trump told Ms Laura Ingraham of Fox News in an interview, without giving further information.

Earlier, the US announced more sanctions on Iran in retaliation for its revenge missile attack, and vowed to tighten the economic screws if Teheran continued "terrorist" acts or pursued a nuclear bomb. The targets of the sanctions included Iran's manufacturing, mining and textile sectors as well as senior Iranian officials involved in the Jan 8 attack.

ASSOCIATED PRESS, NYTIMES, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 12, 2020, with the headline 'Rouhani blames downing of jet on US 'threats and bullying''. Print Edition | Subscribe