Ukrainian plane was ‘unintentionally’ shot down, Iran says

Iran announced Saturday that its military “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week, killing all 176 aboard, after the government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible.

The plane was shot down early Wednesday, hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad. No one was wounded in the attack on the bases.

A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military centre” of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The military was at its “highest level of readiness,” it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.

“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the statement said. It apologized for the disaster and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent such “mistakes” in the future.

It also said those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Twitter offered “profound regrets, apologies and condolences” to those affected, but also blamed “US adventurism” for the accident. 

President Hassan Rouhani tweeted: “Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.”

Flight PS752, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran during takeoff. Ottawa said 138 people were bound for Canada.

Iran had denied it was responsible. But then the U.S. and Canada said they believe Iran shot down the aircraft.

Following the admission, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement early Saturday that the government’s focus remains on finding closure and justice for families and loves ones of the victims. 

“We will continue working with our partners around the world to ensure a complete and thorough investigation, and the Canadian government expects full co-operation from Iranian authorities.”

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Friday that 57 Canadians were killed.

WATCH | Purported video of missile strike:

Video recording appears to show a missile making impact on an aircraft over Tehran. The New York Times says visual and sonic clues in the footage match flight path information and satellite imagery of the area near where Flight PS752 crashed. (Video courtesy of the New York Times) 0:20

Ottawa is leading a group of nations that lost citizens in the crash to advocate with “one single voice,” Champagne said Friday.

The government is also creating a task force of top public servants to make sure Canadian families affected by the crash get the support and information they need, he added.

The measures follow private conversations in Toronto between Trudeau and the families of victims.

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