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International News

US Officials Think Iran Took Down Ukraine Flight, Trump Thinks It's Likely a 'Mistake'

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US Officials Think Iran Took Down Ukraine Flight, Trump Thinks It's Likely a 'Mistake'

2020-01-11 09:27:56

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Wrecked Ukraine airplane after crash over Iran (Image source: Screenshot)

While Iran continues to deny it, many officials, including U.S. officials, now believe that the Ukrainian flight that crashed killing all 176 onboard was taken out as the result of an Iranian missile. Intelligence in the United States, Canada, and its allies, believe Iran is behind it while Donald Trump is insisting if it was Iran, that it must be a mistake. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday it could be an "unintentional" firing. His nation is mourning 63 from his country that were onboard the Ukraine International Airlines flight that was headed to Kyiv and crashed near Tehran. Other than the Canadians, the plane was packed with mostly Iranians with some Europeans as well.

U.S. officials said authorities believe the plane was hit by a Russian-made SA-15 surface-to-air missile known as Tor air-defense about four hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on United States military bases in Iraq as retaliation for the hit on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. 

Iran denies that the plane was taken out by a missile strike. A military spokesman called the theory "ridiculous," while the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said on Thursday it was a "psychological operation" and blamed the Pentagon.

It could leave Iranian military leaders in a difficult spot, as commanders are left to face questions about procedures and locations of antiaircraft sites.  

The plane left the runway and burst into flames, yet no distress call came from the 737 800 cockpit as it began its ascension. Trudeau's statement that it was the result of a missile was based on "intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence."

"The evidence indicates the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. This may well have been unintentional," he said, without going into detail further. 

Trump put it a little differently: "Well, I have my suspicions. I don't want to say that because other people have those suspicions also. ... Somebody could've made a mistake on the other side," he said regarding the Ukrainian airplane. "Some people say it was mechanical. Personally, I don't think that's even a question."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes as some others do that it was a missile strike, citing a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile." 

Planes, helicopters, drones, and incoming missiles can be targeted short-to-medium range by the Tor system that dates back to the Cold War. Russia exported the system to many countries and sent it to Iran in 2005.

Forty-five experts and search-and-rescue workers from Ukraine arrived in Tehran to be involved in the investigation and to identify and repatriate the 11 Ukrainians' bodies that were onboard, including the nine crew members. 

Ukrainian investigators said before the statements of the U.S. and Canada that they were exploring multiple theories, including antiaircraft fire. Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council secretary, Oleksiy Danilov, wrote on Facebook that his team wants to search for possible debris of the missile after seeing reports online about fragments that could be from a missile being found near the crash site.

This is a familiar experience for Ukraine, as in 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed by a missile from another Russian-made surface-to-air missile system from a territory in east Ukraine. It was passing over a conflict zone on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people onboard were killed.  

Some of the same specialists who helped investigate the Malaysia Airlines Flight are helping with the Iran crash, according to Danilov. Kyiv has also suspended all Ukrainian flights through the airspace over Iran and Iraq.

Iran's Civil Aviation Organization issued a preliminary report that said witnesses on the ground and among crew of an nearby flight said they saw a fire while the plane was still in the air. Once it slammed into a field, there was an explosion. 

Immediately after the crash, Iranian officials said the plane had run into technical problems, but that information was not on the report. While the damaged flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were recovered, Iran will not be sharing those with Boeing but will with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

U.S. sanctions against Iran, issued by Donald Trump, will complicate the involvement of the U.S., due to limits on travel and the sharing of information. 

Around 10 years ago, Canada cut diplomatic ties with Iran. Trudeau offered that while there has been "openness" from Iranian officials to involve Canada in the investigation, they still have not received access.

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