Iran denies downing plane, requests evidence
Iran has denied Western allegations that one of its own missiles downed a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran, and called on the US and Canada to share any information they have on the crash, which killed all 176 people on board.
Western leaders said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile just hours after Iran launched around a dozen ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general in an American airstrike last week.
"What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane," Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran's national aviation department, told a press conference on Friday (local time).
"If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world" in accordance with international standards, he added.
Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of the Iranian investigation team, said recovering data from the black box flight recorders could take more than a month and that the entire investigation could stretch into next year. He also said Iran may request help from international experts if it is not able to extract the flight recordings.
US, Canadian and British officials said Thursday it is "highly likely" that Iran shot down the Boeing 737, with US officials adding that the jetliner might have been mistakenly identified as a threat.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said "we have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence".
"The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile," he said.
TUS officials did not say what intelligence they had that pointed to an Iranian missile, but they acknowledged the existence of satellites and other sensors in the region, as well as the likelihood of communication interceptions and other similar intelligence.
Western countries may hesitate to share information on such a strike because it comes from highly classified sources.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said "the missile theory is not ruled out, but it has not been confirmed yet".
In an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham aired late Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the crash may have been caused by a "mechanical failure" but that commercial airliners need to know if it is safe to fly into and out of Tehran.
Germany's Lufthansa airline said it and subsidiaries are cancelling flights to and from Tehran for the next 10 days as a precautionary measure, citing the "unclear security situation for the airspace around Tehran airport". Other airlines have been making changes to avoid Iranian airspace.
Britain's Foreign Office has advised against all travel to Iran, and against all air travel to, from or within the country.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying Iran "has invited both Ukraine and the Boeing company to participate in the investigations". He later said a 10-member Canadian delegation was heading to Iran to assist victims' families.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said late Thursday that it would "evaluate its level of participation", but its role could be limited by American sanctions on Iran.
US officials have also expressed concern about sending employees to Iran because of the heightened tensions.
Under rules set by a United Nations aviation organisation, the NTSB is entitled to participate because the crash involved a Boeing 737-800 jet that was designed and built in the US.
© AAP 2020