Iran said on Saturday its military had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian plane killing all 176 aboard, saying air defences were fired in error while on high alert in the tense aftermath of Iranian missile strikes on US targets in Iraq, Reuters reports.
Iran had previously vigorously denied bringing the plane down. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who until Saturday kept silent about the crash, said information should be made public.
Wednesday’s crash heightened international pressure on Iran after months of friction with the United States and tit-for-tat attacks. A U.S. drone strike had killed a top Iranian military commander in Iraq on Jan. 3, prompting Tehran to fire at U.S. targets on Wednesday.
Canada, which had 57 citizens on board, and the United States had both said they believed an Iranian missile brought down the aircraft although they said it was probably an accident. Canada’s foreign minister had told Iran “the world is watching.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter, promising that those behind the incident would be prosecuted. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families.”
Experts said mounting international scrutiny would have made it all but impossible to hide signs of a missile strike in an investigation and Iran may have felt a policy U-turn was better than battling rising criticism abroad and growing grief and anger at home.
Many of the victims were Iranians with dual nationality.
In Twitter messages, angry Iranians asked why the plane was allowed to take off with tensions so high after the Iranian military action. The plane came down just hours after Iran launched rockets to attack US troops in Iraqi bases, at a time when Tehran was on high alert for possible reprisals.
Responding to Iran’s announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he wanted an official apology and full cooperation, demanding those responsible be held to account.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that “human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” citing an initial armed forces investigation into the crash of the Boeing 737-800.