ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Iran's military early Saturday morning announced its role in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet that killed all 176 people on board, saying the shootdown was "unintentional" and blaming "human error."
The Boeing 737-800 airliner, Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, crashed five minutes after takeoff from Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport on Wednesday Jan. 8, just hours after Iran fired a barrage of missiles at two military bases in Iraq. The attacks on the bases, which housed American forces, were in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani the previous week. Those attacks caused no casualties.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani took to Twitter to call the crash a "great tragedy" and "unforgivable mistake."
"Armed Forces' internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people," Rouhani's tweet said. "Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake."
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed America's actions for the "human error," writing on Twitter that Iran's armed forces concluded that "human error at time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to disaster."
Iran's statement stressed that the error occurred during very high tensions with the U.S.
"After the threat of U.S. president and commanders of attacking several important places in our soil and the movement of U.S. planes in the region we were at the highest alert," an English translation of the armed forces' statement read.
"After the attacks the flights of U.S. planes increased in the region and reports came in from strategic centers and many targets were visible in the radar," the statement went on. "In this sensitive moment the Ukrainian plane while approaching an IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) base was shot down after the plane's unexpected and sharp turn, leading to the martyrdom of several of our fellow citizens and foreign nationals."
The statement added that the person responsible for the shootdown of PS752 would face legal consequences, and that the military will undertake "major reform in operations of all armed forces" to ensure such "human errors" would not happen again. The Revolutionary Guard Corps has also been ordered to give a full public explanation.
A senior Revolutionary Guards commander later appeared on state TV Saturday explaining that the plane had been mistaken for a cruise missile.
Iran's armed forces expressed "deepest condolences and sympathy" to the victims' families. The flight, which was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew, was en route to Kyiv, Ukraine. Eleven Ukrainians, 82 Iranians and at least 57 Canadians were also among those killed.
According to flight tracking data, the airliner took off just 10 minutes after Zarif announced that the ballistic missile attacks against U.S. military targets had been concluded. Several international carriers and America's Federal Aviation Authority had already suspended their Iran and Iraq flights after the Iranian missile attacks on the bases.
The vice president of Ukraine International Airlines, responding to the Iranian admission, said the plane was strictly on its course, according to Reuters. It had also been given permission to takeoff and had received no information from either Kyiv or Tehran airport about a possible threat, the vice president added.
The Iranian admission comes after days of official denials from Tehran as the U.S. and Canadian governments, citing intelligence assessments, said the plane was most likely shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.