A Ukraine airliner that crashed in Iran Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board, was “highly likely” brought down accidentally by Iranian anti-aircraft missiles, US and Canadian intelligence officials say.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pointed the finger at Iran in a sombre press conference Friday morning (AEST) saying new intelligence showed a missile strike was the likely cause of the downed commercial jet.
Earlier, a US official said that according to satellite data, the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 bound for Kiev was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected.
That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane the official said, according to Reuters. Heat signature data then showed the plane on fire as it went down.
While the Pentagon has not yet commented, the claims by US officials have been reported widely in US media outlets Friday morning.
Trudeau then confirmed fresh intelligence pointed to Iran as being responsible for bringing down the plane, saying it may have been mistakenly shot down.
“Intelligence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface to air missile,” he said this morning.
There were at least 63 Canadians on board the plane and Trudeau has demanded “answers” from Tehran, saying a “thorough and credible” investigation would follow.
US President Donald Trump told reporters overnight that the deadly crash could have been a mistake and he did not believe it was a mechanical issue.
The US officials wouldn’t initially elaborate on the intelligence they had that pointed to an Iranian missile but they acknowledged the existence of satellites and other sensors in the region, as well as the likelihood of communication interceptions and other similar intelligence, the Associated Press reported.
A video surfaced on encrypted messaging app Telegram Friday morning and has since been verified by The New York Times, which appears to show a missile hitting a plane above Parand, near Tehran’s airport.
Here we go. Video footage of an Iranian Tor M1 missile bringing down the 737-800, Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752. This certainly contradicts Iran's "engine failure" narrative. pic.twitter.com/CyMjASAlFI— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) January 9, 2020
Trudeau blames Iran, demands ‘answers and justice’
There were at least 63 Canadian on board the flight and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has blamed Iran for the downing of the jet citing intelligence analysis from Canada and its allies.
“There have been important developments regarding the potential causes of this deadly crash, developments of which Canadians should be made aware,” he told a news conference this morning.
“We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence, the intelligence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface to air missile.”
“This may well have been unintentional.”
The Canadian Prime Minister said it was “a tragedy that shocked not only Canada but the entire world” and called for immediate cooperation from Tehran, saying he wanted “answers and justice”.
“The news will undoubtedly come to a further shock to the families who are already grieving in the face of this unspeakable tragedy.”
Trudeau said Canada was working with its allies to ensure a thorough and credible investigation was being conducted “to determine the causes of this fatal crash”.
“Canadians have questions, and they deserve answers.”
Russian-made Tor missile at centre of investigation
For decades Russia has supplied Iran with sophisticated weaponry and investigators are working to determine if the plane was brought down by a Russian-made Tor cruise missile, one of the top theories now held by Ukrainian officials.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told reporters that a team of investigators “intends to look for the debris of a Russian Tor air defence missile” once Iran grants them permission to the crash site.
“A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main (theories), as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash,” Danilov said.
Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1s to Iran in 2007 as part of a $US700 million contract signed in December 2005.
‘Somebody could’ve made a mistake’
Overnight US President Donald Trump suggested he believed Iran was responsible for shooting down the plane but wouldn’t directly blame the Iranians. He dismissed Iran’s initial claim that it was a mechanical issue.
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.” Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighbourhood.”
“Some people say it was mechanical,” he added. “I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”
A US official said the intelligence pointing to likely Iranian responsibility became clearer overnight into Friday, the Associated Press reported.
Before the US assessment, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Hasan Rezaeifa, the head of the of civil aviation accident investigation commission, claiming that “the topics of rocket, missile or anti-aircraft system is ruled out.”
A preliminary Iranian investigative report released overnight said that the pilots never made a radio call for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning plane went down.
Ukraine, meanwhile, said it considered a missile strike as one of several possible theories for the crash, despite Iran’s early denials.
Iranian officials initially blamed a technical malfunction for the crash, something backed by Ukrainian officials before they said they wouldn’t speculate amid an ongoing investigation.
The Iranian report confirmed that both of the so-called black boxes that contain data and cockpit communications from the plane had been recovered, though they sustained damage and some parts of their memory was lost.
Iran says it will not hand over the black box data to Boeing, the manufacturer of the plane. Trump said overnight it would be okay if Iran handed it to another country like France.
CNN is reporting that the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority, Ali Abedzadeh, said Ukraine aviation experts had arrived in Tehran and were helping decode the black box data.
Some US officials are calling on the vital black box information to be made available to the international community.
Iran must immediately release the black box. Trump Admin must grant US investigators exemption to travel to Iran. International aviation authorities must be fully involved. All are necessary in connection w/the tragic loss of 176 lives on Ukraine International Airlines FLT 752.— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) January 9, 2020
The crash caused a massive explosion when the plane hit the ground, likely because the aircraft had been fully loaded with fuel for the flight to Kyiv, Ukraine.
It was not immediately clear how the US and its allies would respond to the suspected downing of the commercial flight.
The plane was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians.
With AP, Reuters
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.