Angry Iranians protest missile attack on Ukrainian jet

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January 12, 2020
Missile 737 Iran Ukraine
Wreckage from the downed 737. Photo: Office of the Ukrainian president.

Iranians took the streets over the weekend to protest their government’s handling of a missile strike that brought down a Ukrainian Boeing 737 near Tehran last week.

The protestors demanded the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, step down in the wake of the admission by the Iranian military that it was responsible for a ground to air missile that caused the passenger jet to crash and explode with 176 on board.

The military made the admission it had downed the Ukraine International Airlines jet “unintentionally, due to human error” after denying for several days that the accident was due to a missile strike.

READ: Iran admits to shooting down Ukrainian 737.

It claimed that the Ukraine International Airlines jet moved too close to a sensitive military base at a time tensions were high because of the US assassination of General Qassem Soleimani.

The altitude and direction of the flight presented like a hostile aircraft, it said.

However, an analysis by AirlineRatings editor-in-chief Geoffrey Thomas indicated the plane was following a similar flight path to other jets that had taken off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport that day.

Many of the passengers on the plane were Iranians and crowds in Tehran expressed anger at the way Iran’s leaders had handled the crisis.

The commander of the Aerospace Force of the Revolutionary Guard, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said in a televised statement that the missile strike was the result of a rash decision by a junior officer.

“When I became sure that the news was true,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Hajizadeh as saying. “I wished for death.

“All other organizations including the airport and civil aviation did their job correctly. All the blame is on us.”

Canada had 57 citizens on the plane – a number reduced by Canadian officials from an earlier estimate of 63 -and has sent a crash team to take part in the investigation alongside counterparts from Ukraine and Iran.

The US National Transportation Safety Board has also designated a representative to the probe.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a press conference on Saturday that Canada expected a full and complete investigation into the tragedy.

“We expect the full cooperation of the Iranians,’’ he said.

Trudeau said the Iranian admission was an important first step towards providing answers but noted that many questions remained to be answered.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country was seeking justice and expected a full and open investigation.

This included bringing those responsible to justice, the return of victims’ bodies and compensation, he said.

Some airlines have suspended operations to Tehran and the US Federal Aviation Administration has banned flights by US carriers over Iraq, Iran and Gulf waters.