Iran makes arrests and says special court will investigate plane crash
All 176 passengers and crew died after Iranian forces shot down Boeing 737-800
Iran’s judiciary on Tuesday announced arrests in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet flying out of Tehran while the country’s president called for a special court to examine the 8 January crash, in which all 176 passengers and crew perished.
At a regular weekly press briefing, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told assembled reporters that an unspecified number of people had been “detained” over the downing of the Boeing 737-800, shot down in a missile strike by military personnel who allegedly mistook it for an incoming United States cruise missile.
“We will investigate the causes and direct impact of the incident,” Mr Esmaili told reporters “We will investigate the extent to which US warmongering caused this event. Several people have been detained and the investigation continues.”
But in comments broadcast on state television, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday called for a special judicial panel that included “tens of experts” to investigate the incident, a proposal that would potentially bypass or supplant the hardline judiciary.
“I want officials to give people explanations regarding this, the whole process from the morning of Wednesday when the incident happened until the Friday evening when the Supreme National Security Council held an emergency meeting,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television.
After days of denials, Iran on Saturday admitted it was behind the downing of the jet, which came after Iranians fired a barrage of missiles at American bases in Iraq in retaliation for the US assassination of Revolutionary commander Qassem Soleimaini.
While the judiciary spokesman did not disclose any details about those detained, Mr Rouhani insisted that he would not allow underlings to shoulder the blame for the disaster.
“A single individual cannot be blamed,” said Mr Rouhani. “It’s not just the one who pressed the button, but rather there are others, and I want this matter to be explained to people honestly.”
Iran’s admission triggered several days of street protests in Tehran, the Iranian capital, and other cities in the country as well as widespread outrage across the political spectrum.
The downing of the jet has added to pressures on the Iranian regime amid a campaign of “maximum pressure” launched by the United States administration of Donald Trump. Ukrainian leaders and Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, has said he expected financial compensation for the dozens of their nationals aboard the flight.
But in an interview late Monday, Mr Trudeau also blamed the US for the incident.
“I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families,” he said in a television interview, specifying “tensions in the region that are brought about by US actions.”
Despite calls for transparency and apparent willingness to admit responsibility for the disaster, Iranian officials also continued to try to deflect attention from their culpability in the crime.
Mr Esmaeili on Tuesday called for the expulsion of UK ambassador to Iran Rob Macaire, who was briefly detained on Saturday after he attended a vigil for the victims of the plane crash that turned into an anti-government protest.
“We as the judiciary and the legal community believe that this person is an undesirable element and there is a protocol in place for handling undesirable elements,” he was quoted as saying.
Even as the Revolutionary Guard’s leader Hossein Salami voiced regret for the incident, a hardline group released a video showing a hypothetical trial of an Iranian soldier who mistook an incoming US cruise missile that kills 1,000 people at an airport for a passenger jet, and declined to open fire.
“Weren’t you informed... that Americans had threatened to bomb 52 important Iranian sites?” the interrogator asks the soldier.
“Yes,” he replies.