Iran Says It "Unintentionally" Shot Down Ukrainian Airlines Flight [Updated]

Rescue teams comb over the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after takeoff near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran. (Photo: Akbar Tavakoli, Getty Images)

Iran’s military admitted to “unintentionally” shooting down a Ukrainian International Airlines passenger jet that crashed shortly after takeoff earlier this week, per a recent Associated Press report.

The crash, which killed all 176 aboard, resulted from “human error” according to an official statement broadcast on Iranian state television, and those responsible for the unintentional strike will be prosecuted. When the jetliner appeared to head toward a “sensitive military centre” of the Revolutionary Guard, officials mistook it for a “hostile target” and shot it down.

However, Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation disputed this timeline of events in a statement issued early Saturday morning, contending that the jetliner had been on course up until the moment of the strike.

“Until now no flight deviation of the aeroplane which had the accident has been proven,” the statement said per a Reuters report.

At the time of the incident, Iran’s forces were at their “highest level of readiness” the military’s statement continues, amid growing tensions with the United States. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif echoed these sentiments in a Twitter post Friday: “A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster.”

Last week, the U.S. assassinated a high-ranking Iranian official, Qassem Soleimani, in a targeted airstrike at the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. Mere hours before the Ukranian jetliner crash, the Iranian military retaliated by launching more than a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing American troops.

Earlier this week, Newsweek reported that multiple U.S. officials suspected Iran’s involvement despite Iran’s initial assertions to the contrary and a bizarre, quickly deleted post on its Ukrainian Embassy’s website blaming “engine failure”. U.S. intelligence officials later told the AP they believed it was “highly likely” that the jetliner crashed after being struck by an Iranian surface-to-air-missile, which the Iranian military’s statement appears to confirm.

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