Senior Iranian officials suggested on Wednesday that U.S. “cyberattacks” and “enemy sabotage” may have taken down Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) Flight 752, less than a week after Tehran admitted its soldiers shot the civilian plane out of the sky.
Radio Farda, the Persian wing of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, cited remarks by Iran Guardian Council chairman Ahmad Jannati on Wednesday speculating that “enemy sabotage” may have played a role in the plane’s demise. Another official, Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi, made a more concrete accusation against the United States – that Washington hacked Iran’s airspace radar systems in a “cyberattack,” making it impossible for authorities to tell if the commercial airliner was an enemy missile targeting the capital.
UIA PS752 flew out of Tehran in the early hours of January 8 as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, hurled over a dozen ballistic missiles in the direction of Iraqi military bases. Iraq is nominally an ally of Iran’s, but maintains American troops at some of its bases, who Iran targeted. The airliner burst into flames and crashed not shortly after takeoff, killing all 172 people on board. Most were Iranian citizens, as well as Ukrainians and Canadians on their way to a connecting flight in Kyiv to Canada.
Iranian officials initially claimed “mechanical error” caused the plane to burst into flames spontaneously. Last week, Iran admitted that one of its soldiers had targeted the plane with missiles and shot it down.
Now, Iran appears to be backtracking, claiming that the United States, which is not known to have taken any military or other action in Iran that day, is responsible for the mass killing.
Radio Farda relayed that Abdollahi claimed, “there had been a report about a U.S. cruise missile attack in the wake of Iran’s missile launches at two Iraqi bases a few hours earlier on January 8.”
“He claimed that the operator of the missile fired at the plane had difficulty in receiving the message of the command center when the alert about cruise missiles was removed and mistook the plane for an incoming American missile,” the outlet noted.
He then floated a similar theory to Jannati: that Americans somehow snuck into the Iranian military system and shot down the plane to make the Islamic regime look bad.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did not offer details in remarks Tuesday but also accused the United States of being responsible for his country killing nearly 200 civilians.
“The root of all sorrows goes back to America … this cannot be a reason for us not to look into all the root causes,” Rouhani asserted.
The ballistic missile attack on Iraq was the official Tehran response to President Donald Trump ordering an airstrike to eliminate Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC Quds Force. The Quds Force is Iran’s exterior terrorism unit, responsible for hundreds of roadside bombings against American forces and orchestrating Iran’s growing control of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and influence in allied countries like Venezuela.
President Trump and his senior officials stated they had evidence Soleimani was coordinating an “imminent” attack on U.S. troops when the airstrike occurred. A pro-Iran mob attempting to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad also identified themselves less than a week before Soleimani’s demise as being under his command.
The attacks on America contradict Iranian officials admitting to having shot down the plane. Their admissions followed days of suspicious behavior: refusing to hand the plane’s black boxes over to its manufacturer, Boeing, then claiming they were “damaged,” bulldozing the crash site before international inspectors could arrive to seek evidence, denying photographic evidence of bulldozers at the crash site.
This week, however, the Iranian Parliament not only accepted blame for the shooting, but applauded the Iranian military for its alleged honesty in having killed those on the Ukrainian flight.
“We, the representatives of people in the parliament, declare our firm support for the IRGC as a revolutionary body and its plans and measures in support of the people and the Islamic Republic,” a statement from lawmakers published on Monday read, according to Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency. “We do not forget that we are in powerful confrontation with the criminal US and do not allow a mistake by a member of the family to pave the ground for misusing the issue by the enemies.”
The parliament referred to the IRGC’s confession of killing 176 people as “deeply heartwarming” and “highly praiseworthy.”
Iranian judiciary officials said on Tuesday that they had arrested a non-zero number of people in connection to the downed flight, but provided no other information on who was arrested, how many people face prosecution, or why. By Wednesday, the judiciary admitted that at least one of those arrested, if not the only one, was an individual believed to have filmed a missile hitting the plane in flight and it coming back to earth in flames.