Iran admits to downing airliner amid calls for justice, transparency
Erin Cunningham and
Jan. 11, 2020 at 4:25 p.m. GMT+4
ISTANBUL — Iran’s admission Saturday that it brought down a Ukrainian airliner it mistook for a hostile aircraft has prompted calls for a full investigation and for authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Iranian officials said military personnel targeted Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, bound for Kyiv, early Wednesday as it turned toward a “sensitive military site” shortly after departing from Tehran.
The General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces apologized in a statement for what it said was “human error that caused the crash” of the Boeing 737-800, killing all 176 passengers on board.
The incident occurred just hours after Iran had fired more than a dozen short-range ballistic missiles at military bases housing American troops in Iraq — retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad last week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday he expects “a full admission of guilt” and for Iran “to bring those responsible to justice.”
“This morning was not good, but it brought the truth,” Zelensky said on Facebook. Ukraine has sent a team of 45 experts and search-and-rescue personnel to Tehran to help with the investigation and plans to continue to participate, officials said.
“We expect from Iran assurances of readiness for a full and open investigation, bringing the perpetrators to justice, returning the bodies of the dead, payment of compensations, official apologies through diplomatic channels,” he said. “We hope that the investigation will continue in the future without artificial delays and obstacles.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged Iran’s military to also conduct a thorough inquiry.
“This painful accident is not something that can be easily overlooked,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a statement.
“Further investigation is needed to … prosecute the perpetrators of this unforgivable mistake,” he said, adding that officials must “address the weaknesses of the nation’s defense systems to make sure such a disaster is never repeated.”
The antiaircraft fire came from a base belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, officials said Saturday. In a televised news conference, the chief of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said defense systems were “on their highest level of alert” the morning of the crash following President Trump’s threats to strike 52 sites across Iran — and that additional defense batteries had been stationed around Tehran.
He said authorities interviewed the individual operator of the antiaircraft system that brought down the plane.
“His communication system was disrupted,” Hajizadeh said. “He had ten seconds to decide whether to shoot or not.”
Iranian authorities had initially denied the airliner was shot down, dismissing statements from Western officials as part of a U.S.-led “psychological operation.”
In a news conference Friday, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization had said he was “certain” the plane was not hit by a missile and instead had suffered a technical malfunction.
Hajizadeh said Saturday that the Civil Aviation Authority should not be blamed.
“They did not know anything. They were just acting on their own knowledge,” he said. “All of the responsibility is with us.”
After Iran air disaster, Ukraine’s presi