WASHINGTON — There is evidence that it is “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile struck a Ukrainian jetliner near Tehran late Tuesday, according to U.S., Canadian and British officials.
The crash occurred just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic attack on Iraqi military bases that housed U.S. troops in the midst of a confrontation with Washington over the U.S. drone strike that killed the top Iranian General.
Four U.S. officials said that they had no knowledge of Iran’s intent, and the airliner could have been mistaken as a threat.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country has lost at least 63 people, said in Toronto: “We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”
Western Officials’ Claims
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that there is now a body of information that an Iranian surface plane has been shot down by an air missile.
President Donald Trump said earlier Thursday that he thought Iran was responsible for the shot and dismissed Iran’s initial claim that it was a mechanical issue with the aircraft.
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.” he said, saying the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood.”
U.S. officials would not reveal what kind of intelligence they had referred to an Iranian rocket. They did, however, recognize the existence of satellites and other sensors in the area, as well as the possibility of traffic interceptions and related information.
A preliminary Iranian investigation report released on Thursday said that the airline pilots had never made a radio call for help, and that the aircraft was trying to turn back to the airport when the aircraft burned down.
Ukraine, meanwhile, said it found a missile strike to be one of the potential crash scenarios, given Iran’s early denials.
The Iranian report suggests that a sudden incident hit the Boeing 737 flown by Ukrainian International Airlines late Tuesday, when it crashed just minutes after its departure from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.
Officials from the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization did not, however, give a specific reason for the tragedy. Iran’s officials initially blamed the technical malfunction for the crash, something backed up by Ukrainian officials before they said they weren’t going to speculate in the ongoing investigation.
Ukraine investigates the accident
Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the Security Council of Ukraine, told the Ukrainian media that officials had several working hypotheses about the accident, including a missile strike.
“A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main (theories), as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash,” Danilov said.
Ukrainian investigators arrived in Iran on Thursday and sought authorization from the Iranian authorities to inspect the crash site and search for missile fragments, Danilov said.
According to officials, the aircraft was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians.
The incident ranks among the worst loss of life for Canadians in an aviation tragedy. The flag over the Parliament in Ottawa was halved, and Prime Minister Trudeau pledged to get to the bottom of the catastrophe.