SWITZERLAND, JANUARY 09 – Western intelligence officials believe a passenger aircraft that crashed in Iran killing 176 people was mistakenly brought down by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile.
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said on Thursday that intelligence from multiple sources indicated “that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile”. Sixty-three Canadians were among those killed in the crash. “This may well have been unintentional,” said Mr Trudeau.
US President Donald Trump said earlier on Thursday that he feared something “very terrible” happened to the Kyiv-bound Ukrainian aircraft, after multiple media reports that it had been struck by a missile.
The aircraft crashed shortly after it took off from Tehran on Wednesday, hours after Iran launched missiles at American forces in neighbouring Iraq.
Speaking from the White House, Mr Trump said: “It is a tragic thing. Somebody could have made a mistake. The other side could have made a mistake.” “Not our system, it has nothing to do with us,” Mr Trump said.
“It was flying in a pretty rough neighbourhood and somebody could have made a mistake . . . I have a feeling something very terrible happened, very devastating.” Hesameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani, dubbed the allegations “psychological warfare” by the US.
The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 crashed in darkness after Tehran launched more than a dozen missiles at American forces in Iraq in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander.
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, said there was a “body of information” suggesting that the Ukraine-bound flight had been shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. “This may well have been unintentional,” Mr Johnson said. “We are working closely with Canada and our international partners and there now needs to be a full, transparent investigation.”
A person close to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, told the FT that both US and Ukrainian officials suspected some form of external catastrophic event brought down the plane, either a bomb or a missile. Iran has denied the plane was hit by a missile and the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation said the comments by Mr Trump were “not logical”.
Ali Abedzadeh told state television that “it is not possible” for the aircraft to have been hit by a missile as it would have exploded immediately instead of catching fire for some moments in the air when the pilot tried to return to the airport. He added that the US could be concerned about the fall of Boeing’s shares “if Iran’s reading of the black boxes’ data prove a technical fault”.
Iran’s state media alleged that the US intended to overshadow the missile attacks on the US base. However, the regime’s image will be severely damaged if western suspicions are proven that the passenger jet was mistakenly hit by a missile. All the passengers, including 82 Iranians and 63 Canadians, were killed. The crew of nine were among 11 Ukrainians who also died. Mr Trudeau on Thursday demanded that Canadian officials be granted access to Iran to provide consular services, identify victims and conduct an investigation. “In light of this new information, it’s more important than ever to know how such a tragedy could have occurred,” the Canadian prime minister said.
Newsweek reported that the aircraft was believed to have been struck by Iran’s Tor M-1 surface-to-air missile system. Known by Nato as Gauntlet, the system is Russian-built and designed to intercept aircraft, cruise missiles and drones. Earlier Mr Zelensky held a phone conversation with Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran, in which he sought Tehran’s help to investigate the crash. A statement from the Ukrainian president’s website said Iran had promised full co-operation.