Under pressure, Iran admits it shot down jetliner by mistake

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week, killing all 176 aboard.

The government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible for the crash.

The plane was hit hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of its top general.

A military statement says the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target."

An airport employee looks at the tributes inside Borispil international airport outside in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, for the flight crew of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran. Iran on Friday denied Western allegations that one of its own missiles downed a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran, and called on the U.S. and Canada to share any information they have on the crash, which killed all 176 people on board.
An airport employee looks at the tributes inside Borispil international airport outside in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, for the flight crew of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran. Iran on Friday denied Western allegations that one of its own missiles downed a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran, and called on the U.S. and Canada to share any information they have on the crash, which killed all 176 people on board. (Source: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The acknowledgement is an embarrassment for the armed forces and was likely to anger the Iranian public.

It also raises new questions about who ordered the strike and why Iran had not shut down its airspace as it braced for U.S. retaliation.

In an address broadcast by state TV on Saturday, the Iranian general says that when he learned about the downing of the plane, which killed all 176 passengers on board, “I wished I were dead.”

Iran’s supreme leader offered condolences and called for an investigation after his country’s armed forces acknowledged that they accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the 176 victims, and called on the armed forces to "pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”

On Saturday morning, Iranian state TV, citing a military statement, said the country ‘unintentionally’ shot down a Ukrainian jetliner. It blames “human error” for the shootdown.

The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran during takeoff just hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of its top general.

Iran had denied for several days that a missile downed the aircraft. But then the U.S. and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believe Iran shot down the aircraft.

A military statement says the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military center” of the Revolutionary Guard.

The acknowledgement is an embarrassment for the armed forces and was likely to anger the Iranian public.

Trump ups Iran accusations

The explanations for what sparked this week’s U.S. military action in the Middle East keep evolving.

President Donald Trump and his top officials are now offering fresh explanations.

Confronted by persistent questions, Trump says Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others were planning major attacks on four U.S. embassies.

But Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continue to rebuff questions about what they mean when they say those attacks were “imminent.”

Meanwhile, Trump has ordered new economic sanctions against Iran, targeting senior Iranian officials and important sectors of an economy that is already straining under previous sanctions.

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