Iran on Saturday said it unintentionally shot down the Ukrainian airliner that crashed this week killing 176 people, calling it an “unforgivable mistake”.
The Ukraine International Airlines plane came down on Wednesday shortly after Iran launched missiles at bases hosting American forces in Iraq in response to the killing of Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top generals, in a United States drone strike.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, tweeted.
“Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane and death of 176 innocent people.
“Investigations continue to identify and prosecute this great tragedy and unforgivable mistake,” he added.
Earlier, Iran’s official IRNA news agency had published a statement from the military saying the Boeing 737 was mistaken for a “hostile plane” at a time when enemy threats were at the highest level.
The admission came a day after Iran’s civil aviation chief denied claims that the plane had been shot down, as international pressure mounted on Tehran to conduct a credible investigation after several Western governments blamed a missile strike, according to the AFP.
The disaster came as tensions soared in the region after the Soleimani killing, and fears grew of an all-out war between the United States and Iran.
Washington has said the Soleimani strike was carried out to prevent “imminent”, large-scale attacks on US embassies.
Iran had vowed “severe revenge” for Soleimani before launching missiles at the bases in Iraq.
“Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted.
“Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
The majority of passengers on UIA Flight PS752 which had just taken off from Tehran were Iranian-Canadian dual nationals but also included Ukrainians, Afghans, Britons and Swedes.
It was Iran’s worst civil aviation disaster since the US military shot down an Iran Air plane over the Gulf by mistake in July 1988, killing all 290 people on board.
Many airlines from around the world cancelled flights to Iran in the wake of the crash, or rerouted flights away from Iranian airspace.
Meanwhile, Russia has said that Iran must learn lessons from this disaster.
Chairman of the Russian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, said, “If decryption of the black boxes and the work of the investigation do not prove that the Iranian army did this intentionally, and there are no logical reasons for this, the incident must be closed.
“Hoping that lessons will be learned and action taken by all parties.”