Iran makes first arrests, promises to punish those responsible for downing Ukrainian plane

 

Iran on Tuesday announced its first arrests over the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner in Tehran last week, after the third night of angry protests over the disaster.

The Ukraine International Airlines plane was brought down by a missile shortly after take-off on Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.

Tehran for days denied Western claims based on US intelligence that the Boeing 737 had been downed by a missile.

It came clean on Saturday when Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh acknowledged a missile operator had mistaken the plane for a cruise missile and opened fire independently.

At a televised news conference, the judiciary announced the first arrests had been made over the blunder, without specifying how many.

“Extensive investigations have been carried out and some people have been arrested,” said spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.

The announcement came shortly after President Hassan Rouhani said everyone responsible for the disaster must be punished.

“For our people it is very important in this incident that anyone who was at fault or negligent at any level” face justice, Rouhani said.

“Anyone who should be punished must be punished.

“The judiciary must form a special court with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts… The whole world will be watching,” Rouhani said.

“It cannot be that only the person who pressed the button is at fault. There are others, and I want this to be explained to the people explicitly.”

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a televised speech on Tuesday, said the “tragic event” would be investigated thoroughly and all those responsible for the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane will be punished.

“It was an unforgivable error … one person cannot be solely responsible for the plane crash,” he said.

“Iranian Armed Forces admitting their mistake is a good first step … We should assure people that it will not happen again,” he said, adding that his government was “accountable to Iranian and other nations who lost lives in the plane crash”.

Iran had admitted that it “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board.

The military said the jet turned towards a sensitive site belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and was then mistaken for a cruise missile.

Iran had previously rejected suggestions that it was to blame.

The downing of the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 on Wednesday came just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq.

The strikes were a response to the killing of senior Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani, in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3.

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