Iran likely downed Ukraine airliner with missiles: Canada’s Trudeau, citing intelligence


OTTAWA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Ukraine airliner that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, was likely brought down by an Iranian missile, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said on Thursday, citing intelligence from Canadian and other sources.

Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa that the destruction of the airliner “may well have been unintentional.”

The flight was on its way to Kiev from Tehran early on Wednesday, with 63 Canadians among the passengers and crew.

“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,” he said.

The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines plane occurred shortly after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq, and Iranians were on high alert for a U.S. military response.

Earlier on Thursday, a U.S. official, citing an extensive review of satellite data, said Washington had concluded with a high degree of certainty that anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane. The official said the Boeing 737-800 (BA.N) had been tracked by Iranian radar.

Washington believed the plane was most likely brought down accidentally, two U.S. officials said.

The data showed the plane was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected, one of the officials said.

A view shows the area where an Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed after take-off from Iran’s Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, in this handout Maxar’s WorldView-2 satellite image taken January 9, 2020. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane, this official said. Heat signature data then showed it on fire as it went down.

Iran’s head of civil aviation denied reports that Iran was to blame as “illogical rumors.”

“Scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumors are illogical,” the semi-official ISNA News Agency quoted Ali Abedzadeh as saying.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump said he had a terrible feeling about the downed airliner, but offered no details. He said he did not believe it was a mechanical issue.

“It’s a tragic thing. But somebody could have made a mistake – on the other side,” Trump said.

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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had banned U.S. carriers from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the hours after Iran’s attack on U.S.-led forces in Iraq. Several other airlines also diverted flights.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on the missile reports on Thursday, as did the Pentagon. Spokeswomen for Ukraine’s president and prime minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Boeing is still reeling from two deadly crashes of 737 MAX planes in five months that led to the plane’s grounding in March 2019. The 737-800 that crashed was built in 2016 and is the prior generation of the 737 before the MAX. Boeing has built about 5,000 of those planes, which have a good safety record.

Boeing shares rose on Thursday.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball, David Shepardson, Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart in Washington; Alexander Cornwell and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Allison Lampert in Montreal, Laurence Frost in Paris, Matthias Williams in Kiev, Mark Hosenball in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Elizabeth Piper in London; Writing by Alexander Cornwell and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by William; Maclean, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney

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