Iran ad­mits it shot down jet­liner by ac­ci­dent

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By NASSER KARIMI and JOSEPH KRAUSS

TEHRAN, Iran — In the face of mount­ing ev­i­dence, Iran on Satur­day ac­knowl­edged that it shot down the Ukrainian jet­liner by ac­ci­dent, killing all 176 peo­ple aboard. The ad­mis­sion by Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard un­der­mined the cred­i­bil­ity of in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by se­nior of­fi­cials, who for three days had adamantly dis­missed al­le­ga­tions of a mis­sile strike as Western pro­pa­ganda.

It also raised a host of new ques­tions, such as why Iran did not shut down its in­ter­na­tional air­port or airspace on Wed­nes­day when it was brac­ing for the U.S. to re­tal­i­ate for a bal­lis­tic mis­sile at­tack on two mil­i­tary bases hous­ing U.S. troops in Iraq. No one was hurt in that at­tack, car­ried out in re­tal­i­a­tion for the killing of Ira­nian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an Amer­i­can airstrike in Bagh­dad.

Iran’s ac­knowl­edg­ment al­ters the nar­ra­tive around its con­fronta­tion with the

U.S. in a way that could anger the Ira­nian pub­lic. Iran had promised harsh re­venge af­ter Soleimani’s death, but in­stead of killing Amer­i­can sol­diers, its forces downed a civil­ian plane in which most pas­sen­gers were Ira­nian.

On Satur­day night, hun­dreds gath­ered at uni­ver­si­ties in Tehran to protest the govern­ment’s late ac­knowl­edge­ment of the plane be­ing

shot down. They de­manded of­fi­cials in­volved in the mis­sile at­tack be re­moved from their po­si­tions and tried. Po­lice broke up the demon­stra­tions.

Pres­i­dent Donald Trump tweeted mes­sages of sup­port to Ira­ni­ans who back protests of the govern­ment, say­ing he and his ad­min­is­tra­tion are be­hind them. In the tweets, Trump called on

the Ira­nian govern­ment to al­low hu­man rights groups to mon­i­tor the protests and ex­pressed sup­port for the “brave, long-suf­fer­ing peo­ple” of Iran.

Gen. Amir Ali Ha­jizadeh, the head of the Guard’s aero­space di­vi­sion, said his unit ac­cepts full re­spon­si­bil­ity for the shoot­down. In an ad­dress broad­cast by state TV, he said when he learned about the down­ing of the plane, “I wished I was dead.”

He said he raised the pos­si­bil­ity to his su­pe­ri­ors that his forces shot down the plane as early as Wed­nes­day morn­ing be­cause “the si­mul­ta­ne­ous occurrence of the launch and crash was sus­pi­cious.”

Ha­jizadeh said Guard forces ringing the cap­i­tal had beefed up their air de­fenses and were at the “high­est level of readi­ness,” fear­ing that the U.S. would re­tal­i­ate. He said he sug­gested Tehran should close its airspace but no ac­tion was taken.

He said the air­line’s pi­lot and crew had done noth­ing wrong, but an of­fi­cer made the “bad de­ci­sion” to open fire on the plane af­ter mis­tak­ing it for a cruise mis­sile.

“We were pre­pared for an all-out con­flict,” he said.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, ex­pressed his “deep sym­pa­thy” to the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims and called on the armed forces to “pur­sue prob­a­ble short­com­ings and guilt in the painful in­ci­dent.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Peo­ple gather for a can­dle­light vigil Satur­day to re­mem­ber the vic­tims of the Ukraine plane crash, at the gate of Amri Kabir Univer­sity, where some of the vic­tims of the crash were for­mer stu­dents, in Tehran, Iran.

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