Anger grows in jet’s downing in Iran
Iranians express outrage over lives lost in plane crash
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Popular anger swelled Monday in Iran over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian jetliner and the government’s attempt to conceal its role in the tragedy, as online videos appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protests in the streets.
Iranians, already suffering under crippling U.S. sanctions, expressed shock and outrage over the plane crash that killed scores of young people. They also decried the misleading statements from top officials, who only admitted responsibility three days later in the face of mounting evidence.
The country began last week engulfed in mourning after a U.S. drone strike killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who led Iran’s regional military interventions.
Then on Jan. 8, it responded with a ballistic missile attack on two bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, although there were no casualties.
Hours after that barrage, as it braced for a U.S. counterattack that never came, Iranian forces accidentally shot down the Ukraine International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 people aboard shortly after it took off from Tehran for Kyiv.
For a growing number of critics — from ordinary citizens to notable athletes and artists — the events have revealed a government that is incapable of following through on its incendiary rhetoric and willing to mislead its own people about a national tragedy in order to avoid embarrassment.
Videos sent to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran and later verified by The Associated Press show a crowd of demonstrators near Azadi Square fleeing Sunday night as a tear-gas canister lands among them.
People cough and sputter while trying to escape the fumes, with one woman calling out in Farsi: “They fired tear gas at people! Azadi Square! Death to the dictator!”
Another video shows a woman being carried away in the aftermath of the violence, a trail of blood visible on the ground. Those around her cry out that she has been shot in the leg.
“Oh my God, she’s bleeding nonstop!” one person shouts. Another shouts: “Bandage it!”
Photos and video after the incident show pools of blood on the sidewalk.
Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, later denied that his officers opened fire.
“Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” Iranian media quoted Rahimi as saying. “Police did not shoot in the gatherings since broad-mindedness and restraint has been the agenda of the police forces of the capital.”
The semiofficial Fars news agency reported that police had “shot tear gas in some areas.”
Ali Rabiei, a government spokesman, insisted Iran’s civilian officials learned only on Friday that the Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane. The Guard answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The point is that we did not lie,” Rabiei said. He went on to blame the U.S. for “spreading the shadow of war over Iran.”
President Donald Trump has openly encouraged the demonstrators, even tweeting messages of support in Farsi and warning the government not to fire on them. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that “we are following the protests in Tehran very attentively,” adding that Iranians “have a right to free expression without repression and persecution.”
Trump also used the controversy surrounding the U.S. confrontation with Iran to attack domestic political fores, retweeting on Monday morning a manipulated image of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., wearing a turban, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wearing a head scarf, in front of an Iranian flag, claiming it showed “the corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah’s rescue #NancyPelosiFakeNews.”
Pelosi has criticized the Trump administration for the killing of Soleimani, Iran’s most important general, saying it risked a “dangerous escalation of violence” and was based on questionable intelligence.
Responding on Twitter, Schumer asked, “President Trump: How low can you go?”
Last week, the majority Democratic House passed a nonbinding resolution that said Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday that the Senate will “soon” debate a similar measure sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. The measure, co-sponsored by two Republicans — Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky — would send the wrong message to U.S. allies, McConnell said.
The “blunt instrument” of a war powers resolution is no substitute for “the studied oversight the Senate can exercise through hearings and more tailored legislation,” McConnell said.
“We appear to have restored a measure of deterrence in the Middle East,” McConnell said in a speech opening the Senate for the week. “So let’s not screw it up.”
His remarks came amid questions and fresh explanations from the Trump administration about why it ordered the strike that killed Soleimani.
Trumpdid not consult with congressional leaders ahead of the attack. Afterward. he sent Congress a notification explaining the rationale, but kept it classified. He said Friday that Iranian militants had planned major attacks on four U.S. embassies. Just hours earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the U.S. didn’t know when or where attacks might occur.
Schumer said Monday that the administration’s lack of transparency on Iran is “completely unacceptable.”
While Trump “has promised to keep us out of endless wars in the Middle East, his actions have moved us closer to exactly such a war — making the American people and American forces less safe,” Schumer said.
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials said Monday that American troops at Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq were informed of an impending missile barrage hours before it was struck by Iran.
No American soldiers were killed or wounded, the U.S. has said, although several troops were treated for concussions from the blast and are being assessed, said Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman at the base for the U.S. coalition fighting the Islamic State group.
Protesters wave flowers as tear gas fired by police rises at a protest in Tehran to remember victims of the downed plane.