Iran confirms two missiles fired at downed Ukrainian airliner

Civil aviation authority says investigation is continuing to assess the impact TOR-M1 missiles had on the accident.

Memorial ceremony for the Ukrainian victims of Iran plane crash at the Boryspil International Airport, outside Kiev
The Kyiv-bound Ukraine International Airlines plane was accidentally shot down shortly after takeoff from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport on January 8 [File: Reuters]

Iran has confirmed two missiles were fired at a Ukrainian airliner mistakenly brought down earlier this month amid heightened tensions with the United States.

The country’s civil aviation authority said it has yet to receive a positive response after requesting technical assistance from France and the US to decode black boxes from the plane that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.

“Investigators … discovered that two Tor-M1 missiles… were fired at the aircraft,” Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said in a preliminary report posted on its website late on Monday.

However, the report said “the impact of these missiles on the accident and the analysis of this action is under investigation”.

The statement confirms a report in The New York Times which included video footage appearing to show two projectiles being fired at the Kyiv-bound Ukraine International Airlines jet.

The Tor-M1 is a short-range surface-to-air missile developed by the former Soviet Union that is designed to target aircraft or cruise missiles.

Iran had for days denied Western claims based on US intelligence reports that the aircraft had been shot down, before admitting to the “disastrous mistake” on January 11.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh accepted full responsibility but said the missile operator who opened fire had been acting independently.

Black-box impasse

The downing triggered days of student-led protests mainly in the Iranian capital.

Supreme leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei said on Friday that the demonstrations were unrepresentative of the Iranian people and accused the country’s enemies of exploiting the air disaster for propaganda purposes.

In its report, the Civil Aviation Organization said it was “impossible” for it to read the flight data and cockpit voice recorders – commonly known as black boxes – because they were so advanced.

Bodies of Ukrainian victims of Iran plane crash repatriated

But it suggested Iran wants to keep them for now.

“If devices are provided, the information (on the black boxes) can be restored and retrieved in a short period of time,” it said.

The aviation body said it had asked its French and US counterparts, the BEA and NTSB respectively, to provide a list of the equipment required to read the black boxes.

It said it had also sought the transfer of the equipment, but added that neither the BEA nor NTSB had “so far responded positively”.

The organisation said it had acquired the list nonetheless, without saying how, and hinted it would use it to buy the equipment itself.

The report said that based on passports used to board Flight PS752, there were 146 Iranians, 11 Ukrainians including nine crew members, 10 Afghans and four Swedes on the ill-fated airliner.

Canada, which says 57 of its nationals were on the plane, has repeatedly asked Iran to hand the black boxes over to Ukraine or France for expert analysis.

US-Iran tensions

The aircraft was downed when Iran’s air defences had been on high alert hours after its armed forces fired more than 20 ballistic missiles at US targets in Iraq.

That was carried out in reprisal for a January 3 US drone strike that killed Iran’s most prominent military commander, Qassem Soleimani, near Baghdad airport.

US President Donald Trump had threatened to hit back if Iran struck US citizens or assets in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, but refrained after the missiles caused no casualties.

It was the second time in little more than six months that the two countries were on the brink of war.

In June 2019, Trump had approved a strike on Iran in response to the downing of a US drone in the Gulf, before calling it off at the last minute.

Longstanding US-Iran tensions have soared since May 2018 when Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal that offered Tehran sanctions relief in return for curbs to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Washington says it seeks to rein in Tehran’s ballistic missile programme as well as its “destabilising behaviour” in the region.

It has since slapped punishing sanctions on Iran, which denies it wants to acquire nuclear weapons and has hit back by progressively rolling back commitments to the unravelling nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Tehran and world powers.

World mourns Iran plane crash victims (2:23)

Source: News Agencies