Jan. 11 (UPI) — Iran said Saturday that it unintentionally shot down a Ukrainian civilian plane shortly after takeoff, killing all 176 aboard in a missile attack caused by “human error.”
The incident occurred hours after the country launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases hosting U.S. troops.
“Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane and death of 176 innocent people,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted. “Investigations continue to identify and prosecute this great tragedy and unforgivable mistake.”
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement the military had been on high alert after launching the missiles in retaliation for last week’s killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Brig. Gen. Amir-Ali Hajizadeh said in a news conference that an air defense operator misidentified the plane as a cruise missile, admitting the mistake after authorities in Iran Friday rejected U.S. intelligence officials suspicions that an Iranian missile had shot down the Ukrainian jetliner.
President Donald Trump’s warning that he could target 52 Iranian sites, including ones that were “culturally important,” also placed Iran on high alert as tensions were rising, Hajizadeh added.
Once it became clear what happened, Hajizadeh said he thought “I wish I was dead.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif partly blamed “U.S. adventurism” for the crash.
Based on preliminary conclusions of the investigation, “human error at time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to disaster,” Zarif tweeted. “Our profound apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
In light of Trump threatening to target the 52 sites in Iran, Iran’s president appeared to make reference to a 1988 incident in which a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger plane, Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 aboard.
“Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290,” Rouhani tweeted. “Never threaten the Iranian nation.”