Iran admits it shot down Ukraine passenger jet
Tehran: Iran said Saturday it “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people aboard, in an abrupt about-turn after initially denying Western claims it was struck by a missile.
President Hassan Rouhani said a military probe into the tragedy had found “missiles fired due to human error” brought down the Boeing 737, calling it an “unforgivable mistake”.
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.
The acknowledgement came after officials in Iran had for days categorically denied Western claims that the Ukraine International Airlines plane had been struck by a missile in a catastrophic error.
The jet, which had been bound for Kiev, slammed into a field shortly after taking off from Tehran´s Imam Khomeini International Airport before dawn on Wednesday.
Early on Saturday evening, a gathering of people at Tehran´s Amir Kabir University paying tribute to those killed in the disaster turned into an angry demonstration.
A few hundred students chanted slogans denouncing “liars” and demanded the resignation and prosecution of those responsible for downing the plane and allegedly covering up the actions.
The crash came only hours after Iran launched a wave of missiles at bases hosting American forces in Iraq in response to the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike.
The aerospace commander of Iran´s Revolutionary Guards accepted full responsibility.
But Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said the missile operator acted independently, shooting down the Boeing 737 after mistaking it for a “cruise missile”.
The operator failed to obtain approval from his superiors because of disruptions to his communications system, he said.
“He had 10 seconds to decide. He could have decided to strike or not to strike and under such circumstances he took the wrong decision.”
“It was a short-range missile that exploded next to the plane,” Hajizadeh added.