Iran declares first arrests in downing of Ukrainian airliner

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Tehran: Iran’s judiciary has declared the arrests of an unspecified number of suspects — in the accidental downing of a commercial passenger jet during a major confrontation with the United States last week.

“Extensive investigations have taken place and some individuals are arrested” In comments carried by state media, spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said on Tuesday.

He did not offer any additional details.

Wednesday’s downing of the Ukrainian airliner — en route to Kyiv from Tehran — killed all 176 passengers and crew on board.

It occurred just hours after Iran launched missile attacks on US targets in Iraq in retaliation for the US assassination — of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3.

After days of dismissals, Iran on Saturday admitted that it’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — had shot down the plane in a “disastrous mistake”, saying air defenses were fired in error while on alert after the attacks against two Iraqi bases hosting US troops.

Donald Trump US President had previously threatened to strike 52 targets within Iran — if Tehran targeted US citizens or assets following Qassem Soleimani’s killing.

Iran’s delayed acknowledgement of the shoot-down triggered small protests in Tehran and elsewhere, with hundreds of people taking to the streets to direct their ire towards senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, amid accusations of being misled.

The government has refused a cover-up and police rejected reports that it had opened fire at demonstrators.

Videos posted on social media that could not be independently verified — appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protesters.

In an on-aired address on Tuesday, Iran’s President Rouhani vowed a thorough exploration into the “unforgivable error” of shooting down the plane, the latest in a series of apologies from a leadership grappling with public wrath.

Canada grieves for the dead after Iran aircraft tragedy

Hassan Rouhani called for a special court to be set up with a ranking judge and dozens of experts to investigate the “tragic event”.

Rouhani said, “This is not an ordinary case. The entire world will be watching this court,” adding that everyone responsible in the accident must be penalized. #PS752

“For our people, it is very important in this occurrence that whoever was at mistake or negligent at any level” faces justice, Rouhani said.

“Anyone who should be punished must be punished.”

“We should assure people that it will not happen again,” Rouhani said, adding that his government was “accountable to Iranian and other nations who lost lives in the plane crash”.

The president called the government’s admission that Iranian forces shot down the plane the “first good step”.

Al Jazeera’s – Assed Baig, reporting from Tehran, said Rouhani’s comments were “a watershed moment in this country because people aren’t used to the military and state institutions taking state responsibility and accepting that they are wrong”.

Furthermore, Baig added that Rouhani mentioned that the downing of the plane was not the fault — of just one person operating the air defense system – rather, there were many problems involved.

“He also said that finally it’s the US that’s responsible — for the heightened level of tension — again referring to Trump’s threat to target 52 sites but added that this isn’t an excuse for the military and other people,” Baig said further.

Most of those on board the flight – were Iranians or dual nationals.

Canada, Ukraine, Britain and other nations who had citizens on the plane have scheduled a meeting on Thursday — in London to consider legal action against Tehran.

On Monday night, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said its investigators flying to Tehran would be granted access to the wreckage and black box flight recorders of the downed airliner.

Iran has invited experts from Canada, France, Ukraine and the US to take part in the probe into the air disaster.

“The government from the very beginning invited international teams for the investigation.”

“If there was going to be a cover-up they wouldn’t have done that, said Mohammad Marandi, head of American studies at the University of Tehran.”

“The government and the armed forces – protected the black box.

They could have damaged it beyond recognition — and say that it was demolished in the crash; they didn’t do so. They protected it.”