Iran admitted Saturday that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming human error and “US adventurism” for the crash that left 176 people dead.
In a statement, the nation’s armed forces said it targeted the passenger plane unintentionally. It attributed the crash to radar activity and fear of US action.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake. My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said.
Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crashed Wednesday after takeoff from Tehran’s airport. The crash came hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi military bases housing US troops in retaliation for a drone strike at Baghdad airport that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.
After the missile operation in Iraq, US military flights around Iranian borders increased and Iranian military officials reported seeing aerial targets coming toward strategic centers, according to a statement by Iranian armed forces headquarters.
“The aircraft came close to a sensitive IRGC military center at an altitude and flight condition that resembled hostile targeting. Under these circumstances, the aircraft was unintentionally hit, which unfortunately resulted in death of the many Iranian and foreign nationals,” the statement reads.
The victims include 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals.
“Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted.
The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force said he had requested all commercial flights in Iran be grounded until tensions cooled off.
But the Armed Forces and government and aviation authorities chose not to do so, Brigadier-General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh said at a news conference Saturday.
Hajizadeh said the plane was misidentified as a cruise missile by an air defense operator.
The operator was unable to contact the central air defense command to confirm it. He had 10 seconds to choose between shooting it down or not, Hajizadeh said.
Hajizadeh accepted responsibility, saying that once it became clear what had happened, he thought: “I wish I was dead.”
Iran concedes the ‘big lie’ is true
Iran had previously denied US claims that the country had struck down the plane accidentally.
A US official familiar with the intelligence said the aircraft was downed by two Russian-made SA-15 surface-to-air missiles. The US saw Iranian radar signals lock onto the jetliner before it was shot down.
“No one will assume responsibility for such a big lie once it is known that the claim had been fraudulent,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in a statement earlier Friday, according to state-run Press TV.
Iranian authorities are in possession of the two flight data recorders, also known as black boxes, which Ukrainian investigators got access to Friday. They have yet to start examining the information, but have said it included communications between the pilot and Tehran flight control.