Iran Rejects Accusations It Shot Down Ukrainian Passenger Jet
A probe is underway into the cause of an airline crash that killed 176 people near Tehran, with Western countries accusing Iran of responsibility.
Iranian and Ukrainian officials are investigating the crash of a Ukrainian airliner near Tehran amid mounting claims the jet was shot down.
All 176 people on board the Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737 airliner died when it crashed in a field shortly after take-off on Wednesday morning local time.
Iran maintains that the plane went down due to a technical problem, while Western allies, led by the US and Canada claim Iran likely shot it down, possibly by accident.
Ukraine Plane 'Brought Down By Iran', Trudeau Calls For 'Credible' Investigation
U.S and Canadian officials said it is highly likely Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board, as Canadian PM Justin Trudeau called for a 'credible' investigation into the crash.
The incident occurred hours after Iran fired missiles at American bases in neighbouring Iraq in retaliation for the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike.
Most of the victims were Iranian and Canadian citizens. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that evidence suggests the airliner was downed by an Iranian missile.
IIran's Civil Aviation Authority boss Ali Abedzadeh is certain a missile did not the cause the crash. "We can state it with certainty that no missile has hit this aeroplane," he said at a press conference in Tehran on Friday.
"The plane was flying for over one-and-a-half minutes while it was on fire, and the crash site shows the pilot had decided to return [to the airport]," he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is cautious, saying the missile scenario has not been ruled out.
"We call on all our international partners, especially the U.S., Canada and Britain, to present any evidence pertaining to the catastrophe," Zelensky said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday it was "likely that that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile."
"We're going to let the investigation play out before we make a final determination," Pompeo said during a White House press conference.
"When we get results of that investigation, I am confident we and the world will take appropriate actions in response."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance trusts the assessment of member countries who say an Iranian missile downed the plane.
The European Aviation Safety Agency advised airlines in the meantime to avoid flights through Iraqi and Iranian airspace.
Ukrainian state media initially reported that the most likely cause was an engine fire.
Investigators are concentrating on the damaged black-box flight recorders recovered from the crash site.
Abedzadeh said Iran will try to download the data but, if unsuccessful, it will turn to other countries for help.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said representatives from U.S. aerospace giant Boeing are also welcome to participate in the probe.
The European Commission refused to speculate about a possible cause of Wednesday's crash, saying it would await the findings of the official investigation.
While the commission remained tight-lipped, several EU foreign ministers pointed the finger at Iran on their way into EU top diplomat crisis talks in Brussels.
"It is indeed very likely that the plane has been shot down by Iranian missiles," Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that 17 people with ties to Sweden, including seven people with Swedish citizenship and 10 others with residency in the Scandinavian country, were killed in the crash.
"They were all someone's child, classmate, friend or colleague. My thoughts are with the families," she said.