In a statement read on state TV on January 11, Iran has admitted it “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet.
According to the statement, the flight PS752 had turned towards a “sensitive military center” of the Revolutionary Guards, the force set up to defend Iran’s Islamic system, and had a “flying posture and altitude of an enemy target”.
The plane was shot down on January 8, hours after Iran had struck two air bases housing US forces in Iraq.
Those missile strikes were Iran’s response to the US killing of senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. He died in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.
Iran had initially denied reports its missiles had brought down the plane, with one spokesman accusing Western nations of “lying and engaging in psychological warfare”.
Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, en route to Kyiv, came down near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran shortly after take-off. Victims included dozens of Iranians and Canadians, as well as nationals from Ukraine, the UK, Afghanistan and Germany.
Brig-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace commander, said a missile operator had acted independently and alone, mistaking the plane for a “cruise missile” as there had been reports that such missiles had been fired at Iran.
He said: “He had 10 seconds to decide. He could have decided to strike or not to strike and under such circumstances he took the wrong decision.
“He was obliged to make contact and get verification. But apparently, his communications system had some disruptions.”
General Hajizadeh said the military would upgrade its systems to prevent such “mistakes” in the future.
He said he had “wished he was dead” after being told of the missile strike.
The general also said a request had been made for a no-fly zone in the area before the incident but, for reasons that are unclear, this was rejected.
He said he had informed the authorities about what had happened on January 8, raising questions about why Iran had denied involvement for so long.
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has demanded Iran “bring the guilty to the courts”, repatriate the remains of the victims, pay compensation, give total access to Ukrainian officials and issue an apology through diplomatic channels.
Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei said there was “proof of human error” and that he had asked “relevant authorities to take necessary measures to prevent” such an incident happening again.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said: “Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.”
The president vowed to prosecute those responsible.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif apologized to the families of the victims but laid part of the blame on the US. “Human error at a time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to [this] disaster,” he said.
Some video footage on social media has shown protests in central Tehran, with people calling for resignations and accusing officials of dishonesty.
Protests were reported at the Sharif and Amir Kabir universities.
Some demonstrators chanted for the resignation of the commander in chief – Ayatollah Khamenei.
The semi-official Fars news agency carried a rare report of the anti-government unrest, saying up to 1,000 people had gathered, chanting slogans against leaders and tearing up pictures of Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
A number of social media users asked why Iranian officials had not accepted responsibility earlier, appearing only to do so after international pressure.