US points to Iran striking plane
Britain, Canada hint missile hitting jetliner could have been mistaken as possible threat
WASHINGTON — It is “highly likely” that Iran shot down the civilian Ukrainian jetliner that crashed near Tehran early Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board, U.S., Canadian and British officials declared Thursday. They said the missile strike could well have been a mistake amid rocket launches and high tension throughout the region.
The crash came a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops in its violent confrontation with Washington over the U.S. drone strike that killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general. The airliner could have been mistaken for a threat, said four U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said in Toronto: “We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evi
dence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surfaceto-air missile.”
Likewise, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “There is now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”
The assessment that 176 people were killed as collateral damage in the Iranian-U.S. conflict cast a new pall over what had at first appeared to be a relatively calm aftermath following the U.S. military operation that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
It was not clear how the U.S. and its allies would react.
Despite efforts by Washington and Tehran to step back from the brink of possible war, the region remained on edge after the killing of the Iranian general and Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes. U.S. troops were on high-alert.
At the White House, President Donald Trump suggested that he believed Iran was responsible for the downing and dismissed Iran’s initial claim that it was a mechanical issue with the plane.
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side,” Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood.”
Late Thursday, the U.S. House approved a measure that aims to bar any further military action against Iran without congressional approval. However, the resolution approved by the Democratic-majority House is nonbinding and, at any rate, no similar measure could pass the Republican-controlled Senate.
As for the airliner crash, the U.S. officials wouldn’t say what 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 New York Times posted a video Thursday that it said it had verified showing the moment the apparent missile struck the plane over Iran. The video shows a fastmoving object rising before a fiery explosion. An object, apparently on fire, then continues in a different direction.
A preliminary Iranian investigative report released Thursday said the plane’s pilots never made a radio call for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning airliner went down.
The Iranian report suggested that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines early Wednesday, when it crashed, just minutes after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, the main airport for travelers in Iran.
Investigators from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization offered no immediate explanation for the disaster, however.
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.
Before the U.S. assessment, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Hasan Rezaeifa, head of the of civil aviation accident investigation commission, claiming that “the topics of rocket, missile or anti-aircraft system is ruled out.”
The Ukrainian International Airlines took off at 6:12 a.m.
Wednesday, Tehran time, after nearly an hour’s delay. The plane gained altitude heading west, reaching nearly 8,000 feet, according to both the report and flight-tracking data.
Witnesses, including the crew of another flight passing above, described seeing the plane engulfed in flames before crashing at 6:18 a.m., the report said. 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.
The report also confirmed that both “black boxes” had been recovered, though they sustained damage.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told Ukrainian media that officials had several working theories regarding the crash, including a missile strike.
Rescue teams work at the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after takeoff near Imam Khomeini airport on Wednesday.