Iran admits to unintentionally shooting down Ukrainian plane

By Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 0255 GMT (1055 HKT) January 13, 2020
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9:37 a.m. ET, January 12, 2020

Defense Secretary Esper says he "believes" Iranians were targeting four US embassies

From CNN's Kevin Bohn

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper believes, as the President also said, that four US embassies were being targeted by the Iranians for attack but said he couldn’t discuss any intelligence that the US had regarding that threat, Esper told CNN’s “State of the Union” today.

There was intelligence that they had, there was an intent to target the US embassy in Baghdad. What the President said with regard to the four embassies is what I believe as well. He said he believe that they probably, that they could have been targeting the embassies in the region. I believe that as well as did other national security team members. That is why I deployed thousands of additional paratroopers to the region to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad and to reinforce other locations throughout the region,” Esper told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

 American officials have said the threat information against the US Embassy in Baghdad was the most specific. 

While President Trump Friday told Fox News “I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” Esper said repeatedly was not going to discuss specific intelligence.

 “It’s the President’s prerogative, but what the president said was he believed, he said he could have been targeting. All those things that I believe as well, that the national security team believes as well,” Esper said today. 

Asked if the embassies at risk were alerted, he all embassies were put on alert.

When asked about the use by the President and other officials of the word “imminent” to describe the threat, Esper said the information US officials had met his definition because it was believed an attack was “days away.” 

Regarding some Democratic members complaining there was no information about the embassies threat in the congressional briefings they received from administration officials, Esper said there were more specific intelligence given to the so-called congressional “Gang of 8,” which is the top leaders and intelligence committee officials in both the House and Senate.

1:37 p.m. ET, January 12, 2020

President Trump issues another warning to Iran about protesters

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump took to Twitter this morning to warn Iranian leaders to "NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS" following a series of anti-government demonstrations in Tehran on Saturday.

"Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!" Trump tweeted.

Trump sent a similar tweet Saturday afternoon instructing Iran to "allow human rights groups to monitor and report facts from the ground on the ongoing protests by the Iranian people."

Some of the protesters Saturday could be heard chanting “Khamenei have shame. Leave the country" after Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had urged Iran’s Armed Forces to investigate the “possible shortcomings” that led to the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane on Wednesday.

Read Trump's tweet from today below:

8:32 a.m. ET, January 12, 2020

Iran's president expressed "profound regret" for the Ukrainian passenger jet being shot down

From CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph and Laura James 

 DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images
 DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke via phone Saturday about the Ukrainian passenger jet being shot down, according to a readout of the phone call from the Canadian government.

Rouhani expressed "profound regret for the shooting down of the aircraft by the Iranian military."

Trudeau insisted on the need for a complete and thorough investigation, saying Canada was ready to deploy air safety experts to facilitate black box examination and DNA specialists to assist with victim identification and the return of remains to Canada.

Trudeau and Rouhani agreed "on the importance of de-escalation and dialogue to reduce tensions and promote stability in the region." Trudeau said the incident is "an example of how heightened tensions can have tragic consequences for innocent civilians."

8:09 a.m. ET, January 12, 2020

Anti-government protests in Tehran captured on video

By CNN's Alisha Ebrahimji

CNN has obtained video through Alireza Azami, an activist in the Netherlands, showing thousands of people gathered in front of the gate of Amir Kabir University in Tehran yesterday.

Azami told CNN the videos were shot by people at the protests who want to remain anonymous for safety reasons. 

In the video below, protesters can be heard chanting “Khamenei have shame. Leave the country."

Some context: 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.

Watch Azami's video below:

8:05 a.m. ET, January 12, 2020

What we know about the Ukrainian airliner crash in Iran

Rescue teams are seen on Jan. 8 at the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran.
Rescue teams are seen on Jan. 8 at the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran.

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.