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Iran's president admits Iranian missile downed Ukraine jetliner

Last Updated Jan 11, 2020 at 1:53 pm EDT

In this Jan. 8, 2020, photo debris at the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Ebrahim Noroozi

Iran’s president acknowledged Saturday that an Iranian missile took down a Ukrainian jetliner on Wednesday killing all 176 civilians on board.

President Hassan Rouhani posted the news on Twitter early Saturday morning in Tehran, saying an Iranian military investigation concluded “missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash.”

The admission came a day after Iran denied claims being made by Canada, Britain and the United States that Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by Iran, possibly accidentally. There were 57 Canadian citizens on the plane and 138 of the passengers were bound for Canada, many of them students and professors returning after spending the December break visiting relatives in Iran.

Rouhani said investigations will continue to “identify and prosecute this great tragedy and unforgivable mistake.”

“My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families,” he said. “I offer my sincerest condolences.”

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister also issued a tweet that said “A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster.”

The plane’s downing came hours after Iran launched missile attacks at two military bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq. Those attacks were retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, in an American airstrike in Baghdad on Jan. 3.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh told Iranian state television his unit was responsible for the accidental shootdown and said when he learned about what happened, “I wished I were dead.”

In a written statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the grim news.

Nadia Eghbali, whose aunt, uncle and eight-year-old cousin died in the crash, said it was hard to process all of her emotions after hearing the Iranian government admit that they accidentally shot the plane down.

“We’re in complete shock, we’re full of so much emotion. There’s anger, there’s so many things, we just don’t know why this happened,” said Eghbali. “At a time like this, they needed to stop all flights. It should have been stopped to prevent anything like this.”

Nina Saeidpour, whose friend Kasra Saati died in the crash, said Iran’s admission stirred up “mixed emotions.” Saeidpour, from Calgary, said Saati had travelled to Iran over the holidays for a reunion with his wife and two children.

“In some ways we are happy that our government just came forward and said that they did it instead of hiding everything. On the other hand everybody is again in shock about why such a thing should happen,” Saeidpour said.

There are 10 Canadian officials from Global Affairs Canada and two investigators from the Transportation Safety Board in Turkey waiting to get visas to enter Iran so they can both be part of the investigation and provide consular services to families of Canadian victims. Only two visas had been issued as of Friday night, said Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

He urged Iran to issue the visas quickly.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a statement saying the crash investigation should continue and the “perpetrators” should be brought to justice. He also said Iran should compensate victims’ families.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the victims and called on the armed forces to “pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”

The tweets from Iran’s leaders contradict a statement Tehran issued earlier Friday that denied any responsibility for downing Flight 752, and instead blamed it on a fire in the Boeing 737-800’s engine.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said multiple intelligence sources had indicated the plane was downed by an Iranian missile, possibly by accident – an assessment echoed by Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Australia’s Scott Morrison and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Iran had initially responded by dismissing such allegations as Western propaganda that officials said was offensive to the victims.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has said the Canadian government is leading a group of nations that lost citizens in the Tehran plane crash to advocate with “one single voice.”

He also noted that the government is creating a task force of top public servants to ensure Canadian families affected by the crash get the support and information they need.

VIDEO: Families push to bring loved ones home after plane crash in Iran

The Canadian Press has independently confirmed at least 74 victims with ties to Canada, many of them students at Canadian universities.

The dead also included citizens of Iran, Ukraine, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Afghanistan and Germany.

Flight 752 went down shortly after Iran launched missile strikes against two military bases in Iraq, including one in the northern city of Irbil where Canadian special-forces soldiers have been operating for the past five years.

The attack, which did not cause any casualties, was in response to a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, that killed Iranian Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week.

Iran had invited Ukraine, Canada, France and Boeing, which built the jetliner, to participate in the investigation into the crash. The Transportation Safety Board issued a statement Friday saying two investigators were preparing to make their way to the area.

Ukrainian investigators were given access Friday to the flight recorders that were recovered from the wreckage of the plane, which was bound for Kyiv, as well as access to recordings of the air-traffic controllers at the Tehran airport, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

However, it was unclear how the investigation will proceed in light of Iran’s admission that the jet was shot down.

Transport Canada, meanwhile, says it has “issued a notice to Canadian air operators advising them not to enter the airspace of Iraq and Iran due to the potential risk of heightened military activity in the area.”

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