Tehran rebuffs claims it shot down Ukrainian jet

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Iran has again rejected suggestions that one of its missiles brought down a Ukrainian passenger jet near the capital, Tehran, on Wednesday.

Its civil aviation chief said on Friday he was “certain” that the plane was not hit by a missile.

He was responding to claims by Western leaders that evidence suggested the plane had been hit by a surface-to-air missile, possibly in error.

New video appeared to show a plane being hit by a projectile over Tehran.

The crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 with the loss of 176 lives came just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq.

US media have speculated that the airliner may have been mistaken for a warplane as Iran prepared for possible US retaliation.

Victims of the crash included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians as well as nationals from Sweden, the UK, Afghanistan and Germany.

Iran has promised a full investigation. However, TV images from the crash site on Thursday showed a mechanical digger helping to clear debris away, raising concerns that vital evidence could have been removed.

Meanwhile, the “black box” flight recorders recovered from the wreckage will be opened on Friday, Iran’s official Irna news agency reported.

What does Iran say?

At a news conference on Friday, Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation (CAOI) chief Ali Abedzadeh repeated his view that a missile was not the cause of the crash.

“The thing that is clear to us and that we can say with certainty is that this plane was not hit by a missile,” he told reporters.

“As I said last night, this plane for more than one and a half minutes was on fire and was in the air, and the location shows that the pilot was attempting to return.”

On Thursday, government spokesman Ali Rabiei accused the US and its allies of “lying and engaging in psychological warfare” in their speculation over the cause of the accident.

An Iranian official told the BBC on Friday that there was documentation to prove that the plane had a mechanical issue before take-off. It was not signed off for flying, but Ukrainian airline officials had overruled these objections, the official said, without giving further details.

What has been said about a possible missile strike?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had received intelligence from multiple sources indicating the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, adding that it was possible that this was unintentional.

“This reinforces the need for a thorough investigation,” he said. “Canadians have questions and they deserve answers.”

But he said it was too early to apportion blame or draw any conclusions, and refused to go into detail about the evidence.

The Ukrainian flight was headed to the Canadian city of Toronto via the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

An altar with photographs of the victims who were killed in a plane crash in Iran is seen as people gather around to held a vigil in their memories on January 09, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada
Image captionA vigil for the Canadian victims was held in the Canadian capital, Ottawa

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed Mr Trudeau’s words and saidĀ Britain was working closely with Canada and other international partners affected by the crash.

Speaking in Canada, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said British nationals were advised not to travel to Iran, “given the body of information that UIA Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, and the heightened tensions”.

Search and rescue teams comb the wreckage of a Boeing 737 that crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff on January 08, 2020
Image captionThe plane came down shortly after taking off from Tehran

Newsweek quoted a Pentagon and senior US intelligence officials, as well as an Iraqi intelligence official, as saying they believed flight PS752 was hit by a Russian-made Tor missile.

Ukraine said on Friday that the US had passed on “important data” about the crash to President’s Volodymyr Zelensky. The president is due to speak later on Friday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a government spokesperson said.

Video obtained by the New York TimesĀ appeared to show a missile streaking across the night sky over Tehran and then exploding on contact with a plane. About 10 seconds later, a loud explosion is heard on the ground.

What about the investigation?

Iran initially said it would not hand over the recovered “black boxes” to Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer, or to the US.

This followed the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone attack on 3 January and the subsequent strikes against US bases in Iraq on Wednesday.

However, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) later confirmed it had been invited to take part in the investigation and would send a representative.

Boeing said it would support the NTSB in the inquiry, and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it had also been invited to the accident site by Tehran.

France’s BEA air accident agency said on Friday it had also been invited to take part in the investigation.

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