After initially denying responsibility, Iran has acknowledged it “unintentionally” brought down a Ukrainian aircraft carrying 176 people, including Iranian citizens.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps airspace unit has accepted “full responsibility” for bringing down a Boeing 737-800, operated by Ukraine International Airlines (UIA).
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the military unit, confirmed suspicions the jet was brought down by a missile, but said repeated requests to close Iran’s airspace before the incident occurred were denied.
“We had requested several times that the country’s airspace become clear of all flights,” Hajizadeh said, as reported by ABC News.
“Requests were made, but due to some considerations, it was not done and at the same time with the flights, the war situation continued to exist.”
Hajizadeh said the airline’s pilot and crew had done nothing wrong, and instead an Iranian officer made the “bad decision” to open fire on the plane after reportedly mistaking it for a cruise missile, according to ABC News.
The admission follows days of denial and wrongdoing by the state, with the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, among other officials, earlier maintaining mechanical issues were to blame.
However, it has since been speculated security forces may have concealed information from civilian authorities regarding the cause of the crash.
“Concealing the truth from the administration is dreadful,” Mohammad Fazeli, a sociology professor in Tehran, wrote on social media.
“If it had not been concealed, the head of civil aviation and the government spokesmen would not have persistently denied it.”
Iran blames America for tragedy
But while the military has taken responsibility for the incident, Iran has laid blame on the United States for the tragedy.
“After all, this is the price of mischiefs, turbulences and actions of America in the region,” Hajizadeh said, according to ABC News.
“That night … the probability of fighter jets and cruise missiles entering the country was very high and [we] had prepared ourselves for an all-out conflict.”
The downing came just hours after Iran launched a missile strike targeting two Iraqi military bases housing United States forces, in retaliation for America’s killing of Qassem Soleimani.
According to a statement read on state television, Flight PS752 had flown close to a sensitive military site and those responsible for shooting down the jet would be held accountable, as reported by ABC News.
Hajizadeh’s comments came after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed he had received intelligence that the jet that crashed in Tehran – killing all on board – was shot down by Iran.
“It’s absolutely irresponsible”: UIA criticises decision to leave airspace open
UIA, which operated flight PS752, has condemned the decision by Iran to leave its airspace open during hostilities occurring throughout the region.
“It’s absolutely irresponsible,” vice president Ihor Sosnovskiy told reporters. “There must be protection around ordinary people. If they are shooting somewhere from somewhere, they are obliged to close the airport.”
Following the downing of flight PS752, multiple international airlines – including Qantas – chose to divert flight paths across the Middle East to avoid Iraqi and Iranian airspace.
President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged Iran’s responsibility for the downing of the jet, and blamed it in part on “threats and bullying” by the United States after the killing of general Soleimani, AP News reported.
He expressed Iran’s condolences and called for a full investigation and the prosecution of those responsible.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has also deflected part of the blame: in a tweet, he said the findings of an internal investigation found human error at a time of crisis “caused by US adventurism” had “led to disaster”.
Officials say 82 Iranians, at least 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians died in the crash of UIA Flight PS752, travelling on a routine flight from Tehran to Kyiv.
Iran’s late acknowledgement of the plane being shot down was met with protests across the country, with hundreds of reported protesters outside universities in Tehran, demanding the removal of officials involved in the missile attack and that they be tried, AP News reported.
Featured image: (iStock.com/Jozsef Soos)