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Trudeau: Downing of Ukrainian plane may have been 'unintentional'

By SCOTT REEVES in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-11 00:25
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File photo: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. [Photo/Agencies]

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner on Wednesday with a surface-to-air missile, killing all 176 passengers, 63 of them Canadians, and it may have been "unintentional''.

Trudeau said that Canadian officials have intelligence from their own sources and Canada's allies that shows the plane was shot down by the missile.

In a statement carried by Iran's state news agency, the government called reports that it shot down the plane "a big lie''.

"It is regrettable that the US government's psychological operations system and its informed or uninformed allies are adding salt to the pains of the bereaved families with these lies and victimize affected families,'' the statement said.

In Washington, a US official told reporters on Thursday "we have a high level of confidence that this was shot down by Iran".

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said US intelligence tracked the Ukrainian International Airlines flight on radar minutes before its downing.

US intelligence services detected radar being turned on, and satellites picked up infrared blips of two missile launches quickly followed by another blip of an explosion. Apparently, only one missile hit the plane, according to US media reports.

The New York Times posted a video to its website on Thursday that the newspaper said shows the instant the Ukrainian airliner was struck by an Iranian missile.

Iran said in its statement that it has formed a committee to investigate the crash that will include representatives of Iran, Ukraine, Boeing, the plane's US builder, and France, maker of the plane's engines. It said Boeing had been invited to examine the plane's black box.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered that results of technical examinations be made "available immediately and regularly to the public, especially bereaved families'', according to the statement.

The Times reported that Iran contacted the International Civil Aviation Organization and invited the US National Transportation Safety Board to assist in the investigation despite previous statements that American investigators wouldn't be involved.

On Thursday at the White House, US President Donald Trump told reporters he doubted that mechanical problems caused the crash.

"Well, I have my suspicions," he told reporters. "Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.''

The Ukrainian International Airlines flight was bound for Kiev. The downing of the airliner occurred about four hours after Iran had fired several rockets into Iraq, targeting US military sites in apparent retaliation for a US drone attack that killed Qassem Soleimani, a major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to limit Trump's ability to engage in military conflict against Iran. The tally was largely along party lines, reflecting the deep divide in Congress between Democrats, who accused Trump of acting recklessly and voted for the resolution, and Trump's fellow Republicans, who strongly back the president.

Iranian officials earlier blamed the Ukrainian airliner crash on technical problems and said the plane couldn't have been struck by a missile.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian embassy in Teheran issued a statement backing the Iranian version of events, but then withdrew it and said it was too early to rule anything out.

Aviation experts interviewed by The Washington Post said video of the crash site showed a wide debris field, suggesting the airline broke apart in the air rather than plunging to earth after engine failure.

Hassan Rezaifar, director of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, told Iran's state news agency, "No missile part was found in the crash scene."

According to census data, about 150,000 Iranian immigrants live in Canada.

Many of the Iranian Canadians killed in the crash resided in or near Edmonton, Alberta. After learning of the crash, many community members in the area emailed each other, reviewing names on the flight manifest released by Iran and Ukraine. The group quickly counted 27 friends and relatives among the dead.

"I knew them by their face, by their name," Shayesteh Majdnia told The Wall Street Journal. "This is hitting hard. Everybody is trying to do something. But it's too much to lose 27 people at once."

Reuters contributed to this story.

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