Iran admits to unintentionally shooting down Ukrainian plane

By Fernando Alfonso III, Amir Vera and Sheena McKenzie, CNN

Updated 8:15 p.m. ET, January 11, 2020
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6:32 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

Why would a commercial airliner be operating during this time?

Several planes had taken the exact same flight path as the Ukrainian airliner, up to an hour before it took off, aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas told CNN.

"So clearly the authorities thought it was safe," said the editor-in-chief of Airlineratings.com.

All of which raises the question -- why was this particular aircraft shot down so soon after taking off?

"To sort of say it was an accident doesn't really ring true," said Thomas. "Because other aircraft had been operating in exactly the same manner in the previous hour."

He added that the Ukrainian plane's transponder was switched on and flight radar was "tracking it until it was blown out of the sky at 8,000 feet.

"If it was a threat, that aircraft would be probably below the radar. And/or a stealth aircraft. So it just doesn't ring true (that it would be an accident)," said Thomas.
5:52 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

US failed in attempt to kill another Iranian military official, say sources

By Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne

On the same night the US military killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, they unsuccessfully targeted another senior Iranian military official in Yemen, according to a US official with knowledge of the events and another source familiar.

The sources would not give any details about the mission or how the US had attempted to carry it out. The US official said to the best of their knowledge there is no broader operation to decapitate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds force leadership at this time.

In a statement to CNN, Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich acknowledged seeing the report but declined to offer any additional information.

Read the full report here:

5:27 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

Supreme Leader calls for measures to prevent similar accidents in the future

From Sharif Paget in Atlanta

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged Iran’s Armed Forces to investigate the “possible shortcomings” that led to the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane on Wednesday.

“I ask the responsible authorities to take necessary measures to prevent similar accidents in the future,” Khamenei said in the statement released Saturday.

Khamenei also expressed his condolences to the families of the Ukrainian crash victims.

“I should first again give my deep sympathy and hearty condolences to the families of the victims of this disaster and ask God for patience and rewards and spiritual relief for them,” he said.  

5:25 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

When did Iran's leaders learn of "human error?"

From Sharif Paget in Atlanta  

Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

Both Iran’s Supreme Leader and President were informed on Friday about the cause of the downing of a Ukrainian airliner, after top military commanders concluded human error was the cause, according to semi-official state outlet Fars News Agency.

Fars reported that after being informed of the error in the country’s air defense system, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an urgent order to convene a National Security Council meeting to investigate the matter.

Soon after the meeting concluded, he stressed the results of the investigation become public as soon as possible, Fars reported. It was then decided that Iran’s Armed Forces and President Hassan Rouhani draft statements to be released.

Iran’s Armed Forces and the President released separate statements Saturday morning indicating that human error caused the crash of the Ukrainian airliner.

5:10 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

Black box recordings of Ukrainian airliner will be downloaded in France

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Sharif Paget in Atlanta

Iran Press via AFP
Iran Press via AFP

The black box recordings of the downed Ukrainian airliner will be downloaded in France, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization’s Accident Investigation board said on Saturday, according to state media.

Although Iran made use of all its facilities to examine the content of the black box inside the country, the content will be sent to France so that any possible damage to the data would be avoided, Hassan Rezaeifar told state news agency IRNA.

Rezaeifar said Iran asked Canada, France and the US to bring their software and hardware equipment to Tehran to download the data of the black box of the Ukrainian plane, but they did not accept Iran's proposal, according to IRNA.

Then, Iran asked Ukraine, Sweden, Britain, Canada, and the US to send the black box to an impartial laboratory -- and France was the only one all five countries agreed on, he said.

The decision to send the black box over to France was made before Saturday’s statement from the General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, which admitted to downing the Ukrainian airliner, according to IRNA.

No details were provided as to when Iran will send the black box over.

5:08 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

US and Iran remain on a "collision course" says analyst

While tensions between the US and Iran have deescalated in recent days, Middle East political analyst Fawaz Gerges told CNN that the countries "remain on a collision course."

"I see it now really changing from a direct confrontation between Iran and the United States, into a war of attrition," said the author of "Making the Arab World."

"Iran and its allies will likely target American interests in the Middle East," he added.

"My overall take is that America's military footprint in Iraq has become untenable. You are going to see a phasing out of American military presence in Iraq in the next few weeks."
Gerges added that the move would likely happen, "even though the Trump administration is burying its head in the sand, and denying and opposing and refusing to basically accept the Iraqi request to begin the process of pulling American forces in Iraq."

Gerges predicted that over the coming weeks, America would bring home most of its 5,000 soldiers in Iraq.

Meanwhile a contingent of American forces and international coalition will "likely remain in the country for the sole purpose of the fight against ISIS," he added.

4:08 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

What has the Iranian response been?

By CNN's Josh Berlinger

Iran has admitted it accidentally shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight that crashed Wednesday morning, killing all 176 people on board.

In a surprisingly candid mea culpa, President Hassan Rouhani said his country "deeply regrets this disastrous mistake" and vowed to investigate and prosecute.

Flying close to a 'sensitive target': Iran's military also issued a statement on the crash, an unusual move for such a secretive organization. The statement said Iran's armed forces were on high alert at the time of the crash.

"Numerous defense centers around the country reported seeing increased activity on radar which caused a heightened sensitivity in the aerial defense centers of the country."

After the Ukrainian airliner took off from Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran, it flew close to a sensitive military site "at an altitude and a condition of a flight that resembled (a) hostile target," the statement added.

Some experts have criticized Iran for not closing off civilian airspace after launching missiles to prevent this type of incident.

"Human error ... caused by US adventurism": Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also acknowledged the airliner was brought down by a missile, but said the United States bore partial responsibility.

"Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster," he said.

4:07 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

Timeline: What you need to know about the ongoing Iran-US tension

By Fernando Alfonso

An Iranian mourner holds a placard during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on Jan. 7.
An Iranian mourner holds a placard during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on Jan. 7.

Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crashed Wednesday after takeoff from Tehran's airport. 

The crash came hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi military bases housing US troops in retaliation for a drone strike at Baghdad airport that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

Here's a quick recap of the US-Iran crisis that has increased tensions in the Middle East in recent weeks:

  • Dec. 27: A rocket attack believed to be linked to a Shiite militia group, backed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, killed a US civilian contractor and wounded several US and Iraq military personnel on a base near Kirkuk, Iraq.
  • Dec. 29: According to the Pentagon, US forces conducted airstrikes at five facilities in Iraq and Syria controlled by a Shiite military group known as Kataib Hezbollah — the group that American officials blamed for the attack on a base near Kirkuk.
  • Dec. 31: Pro-Iranian protesters, demonstrating against the American airstrikes, attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad, scaling walls and forcing the gates open.
  • Jan. 3: Iran's top general, Qasem Soleimani, is killed by an airstrike in Iraq, which was ordered by President Trump. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the airstrikes disrupted an "imminent attack" in the region that put American lives at risk. After the strike, the US announced it will deploy thousands of additional troops to the Middle East.
  • Jan. 5: The military adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader said his country's retaliation to the killing will certainly be a military response "against military sites."
  • Jan. 8: In the early hours of Wednesday local time, Iranian ballistic missiles struck two bases housing US forces in Iraq, in retaliation for Soleimani's death. Later Wednesday, Trump said the strikes appeared to be the extent of Iran's actions and pledged more US sanctions on Tehran, signalling a scaling down of tensions — at least for the moment.
  • Jan. 9: The US House of Representatives approved the Iran War Powers resolution with a vote of 224-194.The resolution is aimed at restraining the President’s ability to use military action against Iran without congressional approval. 
  • Jan 10: Trump claimed in an interview Friday that Soleimani was targeting four embassies before he was killed. "I can reveal that I believe it would've been four embassies," Trump said in an interview with Fox News.
  • Jan. 11: Iran admitted Saturday that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming human error and "US adventurism" for the crash that left 176 people dead.

4:08 a.m. ET, January 11, 2020

What we know about the Ukrainian airliner crash in Iran

By Fernando Alfonso, Madeline Holcombe and Artemis Moshtaghian

Wreckage from the crash is seen scattered on Friday in Shahedshahr, Iran. The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
Wreckage from the crash is seen scattered on Friday in Shahedshahr, Iran. The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Iran admitted Saturday that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming human error and "US adventurism" for the crash that left 176 people dead.

In a statement, the nation's armed forces said it targeted the passenger plane unintentionally. It attributed the crash to radar activity and fear of US action.

Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crashed Wednesday after takeoff from Tehran's airport. The crash came hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi military bases housing US troops in retaliation for a drone strike at Baghdad airport that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

Here's what we know:

  • Surface-to-air missiles: The Ukrainian plane that crashed Wednesday was shot down by Iran with two Russian-made surface to air missiles, according to a US official familiar with the intelligence. The US saw Iranian radar signals lock onto the jetliner before it was shot down.
  • Canada grieves: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government expects the "full cooperation" of Iranian authorities in investigating the downing of the plane. Fifty-seven of the 176 people who were killed were Canadian nationals.
  • Aircraft built in 2016: Ukraine International Airlines said in a statement that the plane was a Boeing 737-800 NG, "built in 2016 and delivered directly to the airline from the manufacturer."
  • Airline's first crash: Ukraine International Airlines was founded in 1992 as the national flag carrier, one year after Ukraine got independence from Moscow. According to its website, the airline operates 42 aircraft, connects Ukraine to 38 countries, and its base hub is Kiev's Boryspil International Airport. This is the first crash involving one of the carrier's planes.
  • Flights suspended: The country's State Aviation Service has suspended all Ukrainian airline flights over Iran’s airspace starting midnight January 9, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said in a Facebook post.