Iran says it shot down Ukrainian plane by mistake, apologises

Hours after rubbishing reports that an Iranian missile could have downed a Ukrainian plane, Tehran admitted on Saturday that its military “unintentionally” shot down the aircraft amid tensions over US war threats.

Calling the accidental downing of the airliner a “disastrous” and “unforgivable” mistake, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, above, extended condolences to the families of the crash victims and promised them that those found guilty would be prosecuted.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded a full and open investigation, justice for the victims, return of their bodies, compensation to their families and Iran’s official apologies through diplomatic channels.

The General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces apologised for the loss of lives in the crash and promised to upgrade its system to avert such accidents.

In a statement, the military said the Boeing 737 plane that took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport early on Wednesday crashed within minutes due to human error at an air defence base.

The military mistook the aircraft for a “hostile target” as the plane turned towards a “sensitive military centre” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The confusion arose amid unprecedented movements in the region’s airspace and rising tensions over reports of potential US airstrikes against Iran’s strategic centres, the statement said citing the investigation by the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces.

The military was on high alert anticipating attacks after some 13 of its missiles hit two US bases in Iraq in an offensive code-named Operation Martyr Soleimani on Tuesday night.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the human error leading to the crash was caused by US adventurism.

He expressed his country’s “profound regrets, apologies and condolences” to the families of all victims in Iran, Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan, Germany and Britain.

Most of the dead were from Iran and Canada.