Trudeau says Ukrainian airliner hit by Iranian missile

What happened: UK, US and Canadian intelligence officials believe that the Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752 which crashed in Tehran on Wednesday morning was hit by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference: “We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. This may well have been unintentional”. A total of 176 people died in the crash shortly after taking off, including 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four British citizens, four Afghans and three Germans.
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is a “body of information” to suggest a surface-to-air missile brought down the Ukrainian plane. Both Johnson and Trudeau called for a full, transparent investigation.
  • Speaking in Canada, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said British nationals were advised not to travel to Iran, “given the body of information that UIA Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, and the heightened tensions”.
  • One US official said the plane was being tracked moments before it went down by Iranian radar used to aim missiles and believed the weapon used was a Russian-made SA-15 missile system, also referred to as the Gauntlet.
  • Oleksiy Danylov, the secretary of Ukraine’s security and defence council, said in a Facebook post yesterday that his government is considering four possible causes for the crash: A missile struck the plane, a mid-air collision with a drone or other flying object, engine destruction/explosion due to technical reasons; or an explosion inside the plane as a result of a terror attack. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked people to refrain from speculation regarding the crash and insisted “a thorough and independent investigation will be conducted”.
  • Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation (CAOI) issued a preliminary report yesterday saying the authorities lost radar contact when the plane was at an altitude of about 8,000 feet, minutes after taking off at 06:12 local time (02:42 GMT). No radio distress call was made by the pilot. CAOI chief Ali Abedzadeh refuted the claim that the plane was shot down by an Iranian missile. “How would the anti-aircraft system shoot it? It wasn’t a security area,” he told Iran’s Channel 2 news programme, adding that up to nine other planes were flying in the area at the time of the crash and dozens of aircraft were at an altitude of 25,000 feet. “If the plane was hit by a missile it would have exploded,” he said.

Context: The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane departed the Iranian capital’s Imam Khomeini International Airport en route to Ukraine early Wednesday.

  • The crash came hours after Iran launched missile attacks on US troops at two Iraqi bases in retaliation for the killing of IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. The timing of those attacks raised questions about whether the Ukrainian plane was shot down by an Iranian missile defence system that was put on high alert following the missile attack.
  • This morning the Foreign Office amended its travel advice for Iran for the second time in a week. It now advises against all travel to Iran and against all air travel “to, from and within the country”.
  • The Lebanese-based Al-Mayadeen reported that Israeli planes attacked a truck carrying weapons last night near Al-Bukamal on the border between Iraq and Syria. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least eight people were killed in the air strike that targeted weapons depots and vehicles belonging to pro-Iranian Iraqi militias.

Looking forward: The BBC’s transport correspondent, Tom Burridge, says that the rapid disappearance of tracking data suggested a catastrophic incident occurred. What is key to finding out the exact cause of the crash will be a full and transparent investigation. Under international protocol, the country where a plane crashed usually leads the investigation, but increasing tensions between Iran and the US raises questions about the integrity of that investigation. Whilst Iran has reportedly invited Ukraine and the US National Transportation Safety Board – an independent investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation – to participate in its investigation, it has so far ruled out handing over the aircraft’s black box.

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