Iran announces arrests over downing of plane that killed 176

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) — Iran’s judiciary said yesterday arrests have been made for the accidental shoot-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed all 176 people on board just after takeoff from Tehran last week.

The announcement came amid an upswell of anger and protests by Iranians in recent days over the downing of the jetliner last Wednesday and apparent attempts by senior officials in Iran to cover-up the cause of the crash.

Iran, which initially dismissed allegations that a missile had brought down the plane, acknowledged only on Saturday — three days after and in the face of mounting evidence — that its Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane by mistake as the force braced for a possible military confrontation with the United States (US).

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said “extensive investigations have taken place and some individuals are arrested”.

His statement on the judiciary’s website did not say how many individuals had been detained or name them.

Wreckage of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 at Shahedshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran. PHOTO: AP

Iran’s President yesterday also called for a special court to be set up to probe the incident.

Iran shot down the plane as its forces were on alert for possible US retaliation after Iran launched ballistic missiles on two military bases housing US troops in Iraq.

No one was hurt in that attack, which was carried out in response to the stunning killing of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad.

While President Hassan Rouhani pointed to mistakes and negligence, he also repeated the government’s line that the tragedy was ultimately rooted in US aggression. “It was the US that made for an agitated environment. It was the US that created an unusual situation. It was the US that threatened and took our beloved (Soleimani),” he said. Rouhani called the government’s admission that Iranian forces shot down the plane a “first good step”.

The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians — including many Iranians with dual citizenship — and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. There were several children among the passengers, including an infant.

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guard’s aerospace division, said over the weekend his unit accepts full responsibility for the shoot-down. He said when he learned about the downing of the plane, “I wished I was dead.”

The shoot-down and the lack of transparency around it has reignited anger in Iran at the country’s leadership. Online videos appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protests in the streets.

Iranian authorities briefly arrested British Ambassador Rob Macaire on Saturday evening. He’s said he went to a candlelight vigil to pay his respects for the victims of the Ukrainian plane shootdown and left as soon as the chanting began and it turned into a protest.