The moment an object said to be the Ukrainian jetliner flying in sky is hit by a missile thought to be fired by Iranian forces. Picture: AP
The moment an object said to be the Ukrainian jetliner flying in sky is hit by a missile thought to be fired by Iranian forces. Picture: AP

Arrests over downing of Ukrainian plane

Iran's judiciary says arrests have been made for the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed all 176 people on board just after takeoff from Tehran last week.

The announcement came amid an upswell of anger and protests by Iranians in recent days over the downing of the plane last Wednesday and apparent attempts by senior officials in Iran to cover-up the cause of the crash.

Iran, which initially dismissed allegations that a missile had brought down the plane, acknowledged only on Saturday - three days after and in the face of mounting evidence - that its Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane by mistake as the force braced for a possible military confrontation with the United States.

The site of the plane crash near Tehran. Iran, which initially dismissed allegations that a missile had brought down the plane, has admitted the Revolutionary Guardshot down the plane by mistake Picture: AP
The site of the plane crash near Tehran. Iran, which initially dismissed allegations that a missile had brought down the plane, has admitted the Revolutionary Guardshot down the plane by mistake Picture: AP

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said "extensive investigations have taken place and some individuals are arrested." His statement on the judiciary's website did not say how many individuals had been detained or name them. Iran's president on Tuesday also called for a special court to be set up to probe the incident.

"The judiciary should form a special court with a ranking judge and dozens of experts," President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech televised in Iran. "This is not an ordinary case. The entire the world will be watching this court." Rouhani called the incident "a painful and unforgivable" mistake and promised that his administration would pursue the case "by all means."

"The responsibility falls on more than just one person," he said, adding that those found culpable "should be punished." "There are others, too, and I want that this issue is expressed honestly," he said, without elaborating.

People look at a memorial at Borispil international airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, for the flight crew members of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran. Picture: AP P
People look at a memorial at Borispil international airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, for the flight crew members of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran. Picture: AP P

Iran shot down the plane as its forces were on alert for possible US retaliation after Iran launched ballistic missiles on two military bases housing US troops in Iraq.

No one was hurt in that attack, which was carried out in response to the stunning killing of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad.

While Rouhani pointed to mistakes and negligence, he also repeated the government's line that the tragedy was ultimately rooted in US aggression. "It was the US that made for an agitated environment. It was the US that created an unusual situation. It was the US that threatened and took our beloved (Soleimani)," he said.

President Hassan Rouhani repeated the government’s line that the plane tragedy was rooted in US aggression. Picture: AP
President Hassan Rouhani repeated the government’s line that the plane tragedy was rooted in US aggression. Picture: AP

Rouhani called the government's admission that Iranian forces shot down the plane a "first good step."

He added that Iranian experts who retrieved the Ukrainian plane's flight recorder, the so-called black box, have sent it to France for analysis.

TRUDEAU SLAMS TRUMP

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the victims of the Ukrainian jetliner, including 57 Canadians would be alive right now if tensions had not escalated in the region.

Mr Trudeau has been careful up until now to avoid blaming the US President for the deaths of the passengers after Mr Trump ordered the killing of Gen. Soleimani in a US airstrike in Baghdad.

"If there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families. This is something that happens when you have conflict and the war. Innocents bear the brunt of it," Mr Trudeau said in an interview with Global News Television.

 

 

Some Canadians including a leading corporate leader in the country blame Mr Trump in part for the deaths.

Mr Trudeau has spoken to Mr Trump.

"I've talked about the tremendous grief and loss that Canadians are feeling and the need for clear answers on how this happened and how we're going to make sure it never happens again," Mr Trudeau said.

Mr Trudeau added that he would have "obviously" liked a warning before Mr Trump ordered the killing of the Iranian general.

US President Donald Trump (L) appeared frostier with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) after the NATO summit in December. Picture: Getty
US President Donald Trump (L) appeared frostier with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) after the NATO summit in December. Picture: Getty

Canada has troops in Iraq as part of a NATO training mission.

Mr Trudeau said is there is anger directed at Iran.

"There is a demand for justice. And that is entirely, entirely to be expected and should be heeded very carefully by the Iranian government," Mr Trudeau said.

IRAN SAYS IT ACCEPTS RESPONSIBILITY

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guard's aerospace division, said over the weekend his unit accepts full responsibility for the shootdown.

He said when he learned about the downing of the plane, "I wished I was dead."

The incident raised questions about why Iran did not shut down its international airport or airspace the day it was on alert for US military retaliation.

The shootdown and the lack of transparency around it has reignited anger in Iran at the country's leadership.

Online videos appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protests in the streets.

Also on Tuesday, Iran's judiciary said that 30 people had been detained in the protests, and that some were released, without elaborating further.

An Iranian film director who'd called for protests in Tehran's Azadi, or Freedom, Square is among those released.

 

CLEAN-UP AT MILITARY BASE

 

On Monday, American troops cleared debris and rubble from an area the size of a football stadium at the military base in western Iraq that was hit by Iranian airstrikes.

Media touring the facility saw damaged military trailers as well as forklifts lifting rubble and loading it onto trucks.

US soldiers stand at a site of Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq. Picture: AP
US soldiers stand at a site of Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq. Picture: AP

"There were more than 10 large missiles fired and the impact hit several areas along the airfield," said Colonel Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

He added that the explosions at the base, which is about 110 miles west of Baghdad, created large craters, knocked over concrete barriers and destroyed facilities that house dozens of soldiers.

A crater from the bombing. Picture: AP
A crater from the bombing. Picture: AP

The Ain al-Asad base was first used by American forces after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against ISIS.

No soldiers were injured in the bombing. Picture: AP
No soldiers were injured in the bombing. Picture: AP

 

Picture: AP
Picture: AP

 

Soldiers inspect the damage. Picture: AP
Soldiers inspect the damage. Picture: AP

 

US President Trump visited the sprawling airbase in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice President Pence has also visited the base.

US Army Lt Col Antoinette Chase told reporters the night of the attacks the troops were in bunkers but could "feel everything shaking."

"I had zero casualties and everybody is alive to tell the tale. So as far as I'm concerned, I couldn't be happier and I couldn't be prouder of the actions that the soldiers and the coalition forces took that night," she added.

CHILLING FOOTAGE SHOWS PROTESTERS RUNNING FROM BULLETS

Iranian police and security forces fired both live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Islamic Republic's initial denial that it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, online videos purported to show on Monday.

This comes after Mr Trump issued a warning to Iran - "DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS".

There was no immediate report in Iranian state-run media on the incident near Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran on Sunday night after a call went up for protests there.

However, international rights groups already have called on Iran to allow people to protest peacefully as allowed by the country's constitution.

Video shows a crowd fleeing police near Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran. Picture: Center for Human Rights in Iran
Video shows a crowd fleeing police near Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran. Picture: Center for Human Rights in Iran

 

Police fired tear gas into a crowd. Picture: Center for Human Rights in Iran
Police fired tear gas into a crowd. Picture: Center for Human Rights in Iran

"After successive national traumas in a short time period, people should be allowed to safely grieve and demand accountability," said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran.

"Iranians shouldn't have to risk their lives to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful assembly."

Videos sent to the centre and later verified by The Associated Press show a crowd of demonstrators fleeing as a tear gas canister landed among them. People cough and sputter while trying to escape the fumes, with one woman calling out in Farsi: "They fired tear gas at people! Azadi Square. Death to the dictator!"

 

Protesters chant slogans and hold up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani while burning representations of British and Israeli flags, during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Tehran. Picture: Ebrahim Noroozi
Protesters chant slogans and hold up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani while burning representations of British and Israeli flags, during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Tehran. Picture: Ebrahim Noroozi

Another video shows a woman being carried away in the aftermath as a blood trail can be seen on the ground. Those around her cry out that she has been shot by live ammunition in the leg.

"Oh my God, she's bleeding non-stop!" one person shouts. Another shouts: "Bandage it!"

 

On the left, protesters carry an injured woman to the sidewalk’s edge near Azadi Square, in Tehran. On the right, a photo provided by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran shows a pool of blood near the same location. Picture: AP, via Centre for Human Rights in Iran
On the left, protesters carry an injured woman to the sidewalk’s edge near Azadi Square, in Tehran. On the right, a photo provided by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran shows a pool of blood near the same location. Picture: AP, via Centre for Human Rights in Iran

 

Photos and video after the incident show pools of blood on the sidewalk. Riot police in black uniforms and helmets gathered earlier Sunday in Vali-e Asr Square, at Tehran University and other landmarks.

Revolutionary Guard members patrolled the city on motorbikes, and plainclothes security men were also out in force. People looked down as they walked briskly past police, apparently trying not to draw attention to themselves.

IRAN TALKS OF DE-ESCALATION

Iran has signalled it favours a de-escalation after 10 days of heightened tensions with the United States during which both sides fired missiles and Tehran accidentally shot down a passenger aircraft.

This comes after reports that four members of Iraq's military were wounded in a rocket attack targeting an air base just north of Baghdad where American trainers were present until recently.

In a meeting between Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and the visiting emir of Qatar, both sides agreed de-escalation is the "only solution" to the regional crisis, the emirate's ruler said.

Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the region but also enjoys strong ties with Iran, with which it shares the world's largest gas field.

In this photo released by official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, speaks during a joint press briefing with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Picture: AP
In this photo released by official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, speaks during a joint press briefing with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Picture: AP

"This visit comes at a critical time in the region," Emir sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said on what was believed to be his first official visit to the Islamic republic.

"We agreed … that the only solution to these crises is de-escalation from everyone and dialogue."

For his part, Rouhani said: "We've decided to have more consultations and co-operation for the security of the entire region." Iran's president also met with visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose country has offered to mediate between Tehran and US ally Riyadh.

ANOTHER MISSILE ATTACK ON AIR BASE

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was "outraged" by another missile attack on an Iraqi air base where US forces have been stationed, as neighbouring Iran signalled a wish to de-escalate tensions.

 

A 2018 photo of an Iraqi army soldier stand guard near a U.S.- made Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighter jet at the Balad Air Base. Picture: Khalid Mohammed
A 2018 photo of an Iraqi army soldier stand guard near a U.S.- made Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighter jet at the Balad Air Base. Picture: Khalid Mohammed

"Outraged by reports of another rocket attack on an Iraqi air base," Pompeo tweeted. "These continued violations of Iraq's sovereignty by groups not loyal to the Iraqi government must end." There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's rocket attacks, in which the Iraqi military said eight missiles wounded two Iraqi officers and two airmen.

The US has previously blamed such attacks on Iran-backed groups in Iraq.

'DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS'

US President Donald Trump has issued a stark warning to Iran as leaders in Tehran gear up to deal with protesters who took to the streets after the government admitted to accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet.

"To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS," Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday (local time).

"Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching."

He added: "Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!"

 

 

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper, however, said Mr Trump was still willing to "sit down and discuss without precondition a new way forward" with Iran, although Tehran has steadfastly refused to hold talks with Washington unless it lifts sanctions first.

 

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Meanwhile, Iran's only female Olympic medallist has reportedly defected, posting a goodbye letter to Iran on Saturday, calling out the government's "hypocrisy" as she announced she had permanently left the country.

 

Kimia Alizadeh. Picture: AP
Kimia Alizadeh. Picture: AP

"Should I start with hello, goodbye, or condolences?" Taekwondo athlete, Kimia Alizadeh, 21, posted on her Instagram in Farsi, Agence France-Presse reported.

Alizadeh did not disclose where she was going, but Iran's ISNA news agency reported she had gone to the Netherlands, according to AFP. The Iranian report quoted Alizadeh's coach as saying the athlete was injured and did not show up for trials ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

 

 

 

 

 

So many lives lost. Two women mourn at a memorial inside Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine. Picture: AP
So many lives lost. Two women mourn at a memorial inside Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine. Picture: AP

 

MOMENT PLANE STRUCK BY 'IRANIAN MISSILE'

Shock footage emerged showing the doomed jet's final moment.

In the pitch black, pre-dawn sky on the outskirts of the Iranian capital Tehran, a tiny fast-moving light can be seen racing up through the trees, as someone films from the ground.

Then there is a flash of light as it seems to collide with something in the air.

An object said to be the Ukrainian jetliner flying in sky at the moment of explosion with a flash of light. Picture: Nariman Gharib via AP
An object said to be the Ukrainian jetliner flying in sky at the moment of explosion with a flash of light. Picture: Nariman Gharib via AP

It is the ill-fated Ukrainian International airliner which had taken off Wednesday just hours after Iran had fired missiles at US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the slaying of its top military man, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Videos verified by The Associated Press show the final seconds of the jet and what likely brought it down.

One video seems to show the impact. Buildings can be seen from ground level below the darkened sky as the tiny light arches upward, then the flash.

The scene is silent, except for a dog barking nearby.

Then 10 seconds later, there is a frightening boom, like loud thunder.

The plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran, just hours after Iran launched ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq. Picture: UGC via AP
The plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran, just hours after Iran launched ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq. Picture: UGC via AP

A second video appears to show the plane on fire and crashing. A white blaze plummets downward across the black sky, sometimes letting off sparks. Then it disappears behind trees, and a huge fireball lights up the sky as it hits the earth.

Someone off-camera says in Farsi "The plane has caught fire. Shahriar. Ferdosieh. In the name of God the compassionate, the merciful. God please help us. Call the fire department!"

The names are two suburbs of Tehran near the airport.

Another clip, filmed from inside a travelling car at distance, shows a pinpoint of fiery light moving at speed.

The plane appeared to have been hit by a missile near Tehran, just hours after Iran retaliated to avenge the killing of its top general in an American air strike last week. Picture: UGC/AP
The plane appeared to have been hit by a missile near Tehran, just hours after Iran retaliated to avenge the killing of its top general in an American air strike last week. Picture: UGC/AP

This footage then shows the plane exploding far on the horizon, illuminating the darkened sky.

As part of the verification process, the AP compared buildings in view with map locations and in the precise context of where the jet went off the radar.

Tehran said it wanted to download the black box recordings from the Ukrainian airliner itself.

"We prefer to download the black boxes in Iran. But if we see that we can't do that because the boxes are damaged, then we will seek help," Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation, told a news conference in Tehran.

Donald Trump indicated Iran had accidentally targeted the plane. Fragments at the crash scene. Picture: AP
Donald Trump indicated Iran had accidentally targeted the plane. Fragments at the crash scene. Picture: AP

 

Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne said that those responsible would be held to account.

"Iran's acknowledgment and apology to all of those affected is welcome," Ms Payne said.

"It is essential that all questions about how this tragedy happened are answered fully and that confidence is rebuilt in the safety of the international civilian air traffic network."

Ms Payne offered her condolences to nations that have lost citizens.

Earlier, Iranian authorities said they may ask Russia, Canada, France or Ukraine for help in a probe that could take one or two years to complete.

The US National Transportation Safety Board accepted an invitation from Iran to take part in its investigation.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believes the plane was shot down by Iran. Picture: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believes the plane was shot down by Iran. Picture: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP

The incident mirrors the tragic 1988 downing of Iran Air Flight 655, in which 290 people died when US navy cruiser Vincennes mistook the passenger jet for an Iran fighter jet and shot it down over the Persian Gulf.

An initial accident report conducted by Iranian investigators has found there were no radio messages for help and immediately blamed the crash, which killed all aboard, on mechanical failure.

 

This satellite photo shows the site where a Ukrainian jetliner crashed near the town of Shahedshahr, Iran, southwest of the capital Tehran. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies via AP
This satellite photo shows the site where a Ukrainian jetliner crashed near the town of Shahedshahr, Iran, southwest of the capital Tehran. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies via AP

 

A bulldozer clears rubble and debris at the air base. Picture: AP
A bulldozer clears rubble and debris at the air base. Picture: AP
US soldiers walk past a site of the Iranian bombing. Picture: AP
US soldiers walk past a site of the Iranian bombing. Picture: AP
Hardline protesters chant slogans while holding up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in front of British Embassy. Picture: Ebrahim Noroozi
Hardline protesters chant slogans while holding up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in front of British Embassy. Picture: Ebrahim Noroozi


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