After maintaining for days that there was no evidence that one of its missiles had struck a Boeing 737-800 minutes after it took off from Tehran on Wednesday with 176 people on board, Iran admitted early on Saturday that its military had shot down the passenger jet by mistake.
The military blamed human error. In a statement, it said Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 had taken a sharp, unexpected turn that brought it near a sensitive military base. Hours later, though, an Iranian official walked back that claim.
“The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ airspace unit, said during a televised news conference later Saturday. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”
In post on Twitter, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohamad Javad Zarif, apologized but appeared to also blame American “adventurism” for the tragedy, writing: “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had been informed about the accidental shooting down, said information should be publicly announced after a meeting of Iran’s top security body, the semiofficial Fars news agency said on Twitter.
President Hassan Rouhani said on Twitter that Iran “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.”
In a statement cited by the semiofficial Fars News Agency, the president offered condolences to the victims’ families and said that “the terrible catastrophe should be thoroughly investigated.”
He added that those responsible for “this unforgivable mistake” would be identified and “prosecuted.”
But he also said that in an environment of military threats and terror by the United States’ “aggressive” government against the people of Iran, and facing the possibility of American military strikes on Iran, the armed forces made a “human mistake and misfired” and “it led to a big catastrophe and innocent people were killed.”
“This painful incident is not something we can easily overcome,” he added, saying that was imperative to is correct any shortcomings in the country’s defense mechanism and ensure such a tragedy would not happen again.