Dubai: A Ukrainian aircraft which crashed earlier this week in Iran had flown close to a sensitive military site belonging to the elite Revolutionary Guards and was shot down unintentionally due to human error, the Iranian military said in a statement read on state TV on Saturday.
The responsible parties would be referred to a judicial department within the military and held accountable, the statement said.
Those responsible for shooting down the Ukrainian jet in Tehran this week would “immediately” be brought before military justice, the general staff of the Iranian armed forces said Saturday.
“We assure you that by pursuing fundamental reforms in operational processes at the armed forces' level we will make it impossible to repeat such errors,” the general staff added in a press release.
The United States and Canada had said that the plane was shot down, a claim Iran had initially denied.
A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military center” of the 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 military said. It apologised and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent future tragedies.
Those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted, the statement added.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a statement saying the crash investigation should continue and the “perpetrators” should be brought to justice. He said Iran should compensate victims’ families, and he requested “official apologies through diplomatic channels.”
It was unclear whether the plane was shot down by Iran’s conventional forces or the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the crash was likely to inflame public sentiment against authorities after Iranians had rallied around their leaders in the wake of Soleimani’s killing. Soleimani, the leader of the Guard’s elite Quds Force and the architect of Iran’s regional military interventions, was seen as a national icon, and hundreds of thousands of Iranians had turned out for funeral processions across the country.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani blamed the shootdown of the plane in part on “threats and bullying” by the United States after the killing of Soleimani. He expressed condolences to families of the victims, and he called for a “full investigation” and the prosecution of those responsible.
“A sad day,” Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport.
The US and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believed Iran shot down the aircraft with a surface-to-air missile.
The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. The Canadian government had earlier lowered the nation’s death toll from 63....