Iran Admits Shooting Down Ukrainian Plane, Pledges Judicial Action
Iran said on Saturday it “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed earlier this week, killing 176 people on board, after initially denying it brought down the airliner in the tense aftermath of Iranian missile strikes on US targets in Iraq.
On Twitter, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the armed forces investigation showed the downing of the Boeing 737-800 was the result of "human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism (that) led to disaster."
Wednesday's crash heightened international pressure on Iran after months of friction with the United States and tit-for-tat military strikes. Washington killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani last week in Iraq, prompting Tehran to fire at US targets.
The United States and Canada, which had 57 citizens on board, had blamed an Iranian action for bringing down the aircraft. Ottawa had told Iran that "the world is watching."
An Iranian military statement, announcing that a missile had struck the plane and expressing condolences to the victims, said the plane had flown close to a sensitive military site belonging to the Revolutionary Guards.
It said responsible parties would be referred to a judicial department within the military and held accountable.
Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei offered condolences and called for an investigation.
Khamenei expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the victims, and called on the armed forces to "pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said his country "deeply regrets" the shooting down of the airliner, which he described as "a great tragedy & unforgivable mistake".
"Armed Forces' internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people," he added on Twitter.
"Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake."
Mobile phone footage posted and circulated by ordinary Iranians on Twitter after the crash has indicated that it came down in a ball of flames.
Iran had said on Thursday it would download the information from voice and flight data recorders, known as black boxes, to determine what had happened, although it had said that the process could take one to two months.
Tehran said it could ask Russia, Canada, France or Ukraine for help in an effort that it said could take one or two years.
Many of the victims were Iranian with dual nationality.
Iran initially dismissed the accusations that a missile was to blame for the crash, calling such suggestions "psychological warfare".